The New Orleans Saints could be in the midst of a turnaround. Possibly.
After four straight losses to open the season, the Saints have won two straight, with their bye week in between. They've beaten one decent team in the San Diego Chargers and one pretty terrible team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They will now encounter a true test on Sunday night in the form of the Denver Broncos. It would help if they had one of their most potent offensive weapons when the time comes to take on that challenge.
Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham has been out since leaving the Saints' Week 5 win over the Chargers with an ankle injury, but lately, the prognosis seems to be good. According to CBSSports.com's Guerry Smith, Graham returned to practice on Wednesday. He didn't practice in full, but interim coach Joe Vitt said "he looked very, very good."
Vitt told Smith: "He did what we call land base stuff. He did routes on air. … The doctors and the trainers are examining right now. He looked good."
Although Graham didn't travel to Tampa last week, according to Smith, the team still seems to be optimistic about his progress and his chances of getting into this week's Sunday night matchup.
The Saints have been comfortable playing Graham in the past even when he doesn't practice, according to CBSSports.com, so that's another good sign. In the event that he's limited throughout the rest of the week, there's still a chance he could get into Sunday's game.
That would be the perfect time for him to make his comeback.
The Saints offense may be rolling right now, but getting Graham back would be major. In last week's 35-28 win over Tampa Bay, the Saints racked up 458 total yards, and quarterback Drew Brees threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns.
However, that was Tampa Bay. It's unlikely that anyone is expecting that kind of production this week on the road against the Broncos, owners of the league's seventh-best defense.
Brees finally seems confident in New Orleans' attack, but he'd no doubt love to get one of his most lethal weapons back, especially in a matchup that looks to be one of the toughest of the season for the Saints.
Brees knows that the offense clicked last week, but he also knows that this unit is going to need to step it up a notch or several against the Broncos.
After last week's win, Brees told Smith: "When Jimmy was down this last week that gave opportunities for others. What you love is when you have access to the full arsenal."
Can the Saints beat the Broncos without Graham?
Not only is it going to be a chore to score against the Broncos—who limit opponents to 215.3 passing yards per game—but it's going to be a chore to keep up with them as well.
The Saints may have the league's top-rated passing offense, but the Broncos have the fourth-best.
Week 8 presents a big opportunity for the Saints. Just a few weeks ago, this team was one of the laughingstocks of the NFL. Now, it has a chance to prove that it really can hang in there with one of the more formidable offenses in the league.
However, they are going to need to be at their best to contend with Peyton Manning and company. They are going to need to be better than they've been at any point this season.
Having Graham at their disposal will make it far easier to take advantage of the opportunity.