NEW ORLEANS - The Saints would never say it out loud, but the first two games after the bye week are extremely winnable.
First, the Buffalo Bills are 2-4 and laboring under practice squad quarterback Thad Lewis who's starting in the stead of E. J. Manuel. Lewis played with heart in the overtime loss to the Bengals last week, but is far from battle-tested.
Then, the Saints are off to Jersey to tangle with the Jets who were held without a touchdown by the Steelers their last game.
But then, the Black and Gold get into what I feel will be their big boy games. The Cowboys come to the Superdome. Two of their three losses have come on the road, and you never know what you're going to get from Tony Romo. He could pass for 375 yards and throw a critical pick in a big spot - all in the same game. But he is trouble. The Saints will likely miss defensive end Demarcus Ware who's expected to miss a few weeks with a quad injury - the first missed games of his career.
The Dallas game is followed by a trip in from Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. Their latest win over the Cardinals was their third straight to go 4-2. Kaepernick is no longer a secret, but he's still very effective. Vernon Davis is a weapon, and Michael Crabtree could be back from injuries in time for that game.
There's a Thursday night game in Atlanta against the Falcons, who've had all kinds of injury problems since the Saints beat them here Week 1. Matt Ryan's arsenal has been depleted by the season ending injury to Julio Jones. Roddy White is banged up, and Steven Jackson's hamstring is a problem. It's a team playing on one leg, but playing desperate. Be careful.
And, right after that, the long flight to Seattle to take on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. This could be one of the games of the season. Seattle with that opportunistic defense, that hammer of a running back Marchon lynch, and a vocal home crowd should present a great Monday night challenge.
If the Saints can survive that gauntlet, and it's a big if, they have a pair with Carolina, one with the Rams and one with Tampa Bay to close out the regular season.
I really think we'll know more about the Saints after that run through the four-game stretch of Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle. Those games will have an awful lot to do with playoff seedings, and whether or not the Saints get that coveted home field advantage in the post season.
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