If you're a fan of the New Orleans Saints but haven't really paid much attention to the upcoming season until now with the start of Training Camp next week; you probably weren't aware just how big of an impact that the team will have on the NFC Playoff race once again this year — particularly in a 5-week stretch of games dating from a few days right before Halloween to Thanksgiving Night.
As a matter of fact: they'll even have an opportunity to show everyone during that time between those two traditional Fall holidays that are associated the most with football season every year, just who REALLY is the best team in the conference.
If you're a fan of the NFL, then you already know that the NFC is "top-heavy" at the moment, and at least 5 teams: the Saints, the defending World Champion Philadelphia Eagles, the Vikings, the L.A. Rams, and those despised and hated arch-rival Falcons; all likely will be challenging for conference supremacy.
Additionally, two other teams — the Panthers and the Green Bay Packers — could possibly join in the fight.
Yet as fate would have it: in a 5-week stretch dating from late October all the way to Thanksgiving Night, the Saints will host all 4 of those other "top-heavy" NFC Playoff contenders in can what only be described as a gauntlet or a series of games that will ultimately determine who the team to beat will be, in 2018.
Things likely won't get all that interesting for the Saints and the NFC Playoff race this year until the Week #8 contest on Sunday, October 28th (3 days before Halloween) which is when they travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota on NBC's Sunday Night Football; to face the Vikings in the long-anticipated re-match from last season's heart-breaking last second loss in the Divisional Playoffs.
Clearly the Saints and the Vikings have an intriguing Playoff history together, and last season's untimely and unfortunate ending via the "Minneapolis Miracle", will make this game one of the most-talked about on the entire 2018 League schedule.
That's followed the week after by another long-awaited re-match, when the Saints host the visiting Los Angeles Rams in a November 4th (Week #9) contest at the Superdome, which will be the first meeting between the two teams since last season's thrilling 26-20 Rams victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum in late November.
Since that time, the Rams have built a "super team" in Free Agency; after having gone out and acquired a new cornerback group featuring two "lockdown" cornerbacks with Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, an impact defensive tackle with veteran defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to play alongside All-Pro DT Aaron Donald; and traded for New England Patriots (and former Saints) WR Brandin Cooks.
Did you get all of that?
The Saints get a slight reprieve in the Week #10 contest at Cincinnati, Ohio on November 11th; when they'll face the Bengals; who had a (7-9) record last season while finishing 3rd in the AFC North division.
But while most Saints fans might consider that to be one of the easier games on this year's schedule, it should be important to note: the Bengals always play the Saints tough, or at least they have during the Sean Payton Era — having beaten New Orleans 2 out of 3 times (wins over the Saints in 2006 and 2014).
Then of course, there's the Week #11 contest on November 18th at home in the Superdome against the defending 2018 Super Bowl Champions — the Philadelphia Eagles.
Philadelphia dominated the NFC for a long stretch last season, and finished with a (13-3) record.
But they were fortunate enough to get "hot" just at the right time during the Playoffs, after they had earned the #1 Playoff seed despite losing young superstar QB Carson Wentz.
But they successfully "rode out the storm" and then rode the strength of their hard-hitting defense and back-up QB Nick Foles' precision passing, to win their first-ever Super Bowl in their franchise history.
Suffice it to say, it promises to be a very competitive contest; but certainly one that you'd think the Saints should have more than a better chance to prove to themselves and to every other team in the conference, that they're capable of winning; especially since they'll be playing in front of a favorable Superdome crowd.
And then last but certainly not the least: there's this upcoming season's #1 most eagerly-anticipated Saints regular season game of them all: the Week #12 contest at the Superdome on Thanksgiving Night.
For what is likely the very first time in the entire 51-year history of the arch-rivalry between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, both teams enter into the upcoming season ahead as top-rated Super Bowl contenders.
Which potentially makes that contest the "Game of the Year" for both teams, when they square off head-to-head on Thanksgiving Night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 22nd.
And while the 2018 NFC South Division title could very likely be at on the line that night, make no mistake about it: the winner of that game in front of a nation-wide audience watching on at home; will almost certainly be labeled as Super Bowl LIII favorites by the "talking heads" within the National Media.
It’s always very intense whenever the Saints and Falcons square off, but this particular game could easily have HUGE Playoff implications because it’s later on near the end of the regular season as well.
So to recap: the Saints in a 5-week stretch dating from a few days just after Halloween until Thanksgiving Night, should have an opportunity to emerge as one of the League and conference's top contenders for the Playoffs again this year, just as they did last season.
But not until they first have to face off against all 4 of the other top-contending NFC teams whom are considered as much of a favorite to win the Super Bowl this year, that they are too.
Yet if they're able to remain relatively injury-free and keep their mistakes in all 5 of those games to a minimum, the Saints should still get every opportunity to do just exactly that.