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How the Overturned Player-Appeal May Have Saved the Saints' Season

Dec 18, 2011; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma (51) rests along the sidelines during the game with the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. The Saints win 42-20. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE
Bruce Kluckhohn
Chris TrapassoAnalyst ISeptember 8, 2012

The Saints got a win even before they stepped on the field to start the 2012 NFL season, one that could save their season.

The bounty suspensions on players Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith were lifted, meaning the two vital defensive players are eligible to play for New Orleans this year. 

According to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, Smith is expected to play on Sunday against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins, while Mike Triplett of The New Orleans Times-Picayune assumes Vilma will start the year on the physically-unable-to-perform list, meaning he'd be out for the team's first six games. 

Even if Triplett's assumption comes to fruition, the overturned ruling will have a lasting ripple effect for the Saints, from a personnel standpoint, and maybe most importantly, from a psychological perspective.

Firstly, Smith is a truly underrated defensive end, a guy extremely familiar with the Saints' defensive scheme. 

Though his tackling numbers have decreased since a 66-tackle 2007, he's accumulated 25 sacks since 2009. 

The eight-year veteran's presence on the edge is invaluable to one of the more aggressive defenses in the NFC, especially when having to deal with the likes of Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan this season. 

Without Gregg Williams and Sean Payton, the more players became accustomed to the game plans, alignments and schemes that have made the Saints one of the premier franchises in the NFL over the last five years. 

Though the New Orleans organization acknowledged their wrongdoing when it came to the bounty programs, it felt commissioner Roger Goodell was too harsh in his sentencing of its players. 

So, through an embattled offseason, this win on the cusp of the regular season has the potential to be the uplifting boost the team needs to once again contend for an NFC South crown and go deep into the playoffs. 

Yes, when Vilma returns, his playmaking ability as the quarterback of the defense will undoubtedly make the Saints' defense more efficient, but the fact that he and Smith aren't serving suspension from the league is heartening news for a club that instantly sees its morale on the rise after months of it being so low. 

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