With a high-powered offense and a turnover-crazed defense, the Saints have gotten off to a franchise-best 10-0 start.
But despite solidifying themselves as one of the NFL’s best teams, the Saints still have plenty of work to do if they want to be the last team standing on that faithful Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 7, 2010, in Miami.
The biggest concern for the Saints right now appears to be motivation.
The Saints are getting eerily close to clinching the NFC South and are just a few wins away from being able to hunker down a first-round bye in the playoffs.
What that means is the whole last quarter of the season could be a series of meaningless games for the Saints’ playoff positioning, which makes one wonder if the team has the capability to flip the switch back to ‘on’ after a month or so of it being flipped on ‘off’.
Recent history suggests that may be easier said than done.
Since 2000, the team with the best record in the regular season has gone on to win the Super Bowl just once. That occurred in 2003 when the 14-2 New England Patriots romped through the NFL playoffs and won their second of three Super Bowl titles in the past decade.
But during that span, the regular season’s best team has also lost its first playoff game four times, with the most recent occurrence coming last season when the Tennessee Titans dropped its first playoff game to the Baltimore Ravens after finishing a regular-season best 13-3.
Signs of that drop-off may already be taking hold in black and gold land.
The Saints stomped through their first six games and had an average margin of victory of 18.5 points, including a 20-plus-point wins against NFC playoff contenders the Giants and the Eagles.
But there has been a significant drop in the team’s dominance in the past month and the Saints had beaten the Falcons and the bottom-feeding Panthers and Rams by just an average of 7.6 points.
But the Saints did rebound and show their early season dominance on Sunday in a thumping of Tampa Bay, so good times may be here once more.
A big reason for the team’s recent problems has been the defense.
A unit that took the NFL by storm in September, the Saints’ defense had given up 20 or more points in five-straight games prior to the win against Tampa Bay.
If the adage that defense wins championships is indeed true, it could spell doom and gloom for the Bless You Boys when the postseason rolls around.
Another area of concern has to be turnovers.
The Saints have turned over the ball 13 times in their past five games (seven interceptions and six fumbles).
That’s a recipe for disaster come postseason time when a team already has an already fragile defense and possessions are at a premium.
But what does work in the Saints’ favor is geography. The biggest enemy of a pass-heavy team is a game in the bitter cold weather of January. But should the Saints by some chance lose control over home-field advantage, there is little chance they will have to battle the elements at any point during the playoff season.
Each of the current NFC division leaders – the Vikings, Cowboys and Cardinals all play in a dome climate, which means even on the road, the Saints would be able to play in a controlled climate should they be forced to travel to play any of those team.
All things considered, Saints fans should be thrilled, because this is shaping up to easily be the best season in the franchise’s history.
But when the postseason comes, everyone starts on a level playing field and as recent history has shown, being the best in the regular season does not necessarily mean you’re going to be the best when it matters the most.