Yesterday, the NFL announced a suspension for New Orleans Saints RB Mark Ingram. The suspension will be for the first four games of the 2018 regular season and comes due to Ingram violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
For the Saints, it’s news that has a major impact as Ingram made the Pro Bowl last year in his seventh season in the NFL, all with the Saints, gaining more than 1,000 yards in one of the NFL’s best backfields. Of course, that second half of the backfield is the other angle. Ingram, who turns 29-years old in December, was already heading into a contract year. Many expected RB Alvin Kamara, who had a very impressive rookie campaign, to begin taking the reigns in 2018. This suspension should only accelerate those expectations.
The balance for Head Coach Sean Payton has to be a delicate one. How he handles re-integrating Ingram into the offense after the suspension with just the Week 5 contest against the Washington Team ahead of a Week 6 bye without alienating Ingram, disrupting the locker room, upsetting his veteran players or setting askew the offense will be a legitimate task of notable challenge. What perhaps makes it moreso is the competitive balance in the NFC.
As recent power rankings have reiterated, the NFC is STACKED. There are too many good rosters, strong candidates and surprise contenders to fit into a six-team playoff bracket. Someone is going to get left out. Well, a bunch of teams are going to.
So how much impact is Ingram’s suspension going to have on the Saints? Their early run opens pretty soft with home games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns. Road games against the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants follow to fill out Ingram’s suspension, but it’s the post-bye schedule that looms largest. Nawlins heads out to play the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings after the bye before coming to LA to play the Los Angeles Rams in a rematch of last year’s Week 12 game only to hit the road against the Cincinnati Bengals to return home against the Philadelphia Eagles and Falcons. #brutal
Suffice to say, the Saints need to rack up wins early. That five-game stretch prior to the bye is the best section of their schedule to rack up some wins.
Should Ingram’s suspension drag the team down in any way, we could be looking at it as a major factor in determining the NFC playoff landscape heading into the 2019 calendar year.