Don’t let the record fool you: This Saints team is not very good.

jscarlton 2010/12/06

UPDATE: For a more reasoned argument, see this followup post.

By record, this is one of the handful of greatest Saints teams ever. After all, how many times have the Saints won 9 games in a total season, much less 9 games with 4 remaining. This has been a truly great year for the Saints.

However, the team simply isn’t very good right now. I’ve been saying so all season, and today’s game against the Bengals really drove my point home. Allow me to explain.

The Saints have played one of the easiest schedules in the NFL this year, and have not looked particularly good while doing so. They lost to the Max Hall-led Cardinals, nearly lost to the Pickles Clausen-led Panthers, the Alex Smith-led 49ers, and the Jon Kitna-led Cowboys. While the Saints did beat the Steelers and took the Falcons to the wire, most of their games have been close, regardless of the (lack of) quality of opponent. Good teams don’t play close games against inferior opponents. They just don’t.

So, my theory is that this team isn’t that good, but they’ve been able to load up on wins against teams that are even worse than they are. Kind of like if The University of Florida moved to division 1-AA. Sure, the Gators might not be that good, but give them crappy enough opponents and they can pile up a few victories.

Don’t believe me? There are a few different websites that measure schedule strength. Football Outsiders rates the Saints’ past schedule ranked 31st in the league. In other words, the Saints have played the second-easiest slate of opponents in the NFL this year, behind only Carolina (how bad must the Panthers be?). If the Saints were anything other than a mediocre team, they’d be blowing out many of their opponents. Instead, nearly every game has been a nail biter.

It’s possible that the closeness of the games has been because the Saints’ opponents are super excited to prove themselves against the defending champs. It’s also possible that the close games are a sign that the Saints know how to gut out a victory. However, I doubt it. Instead, I think that the closeness of games reflects a Saints team that isn’t very good this year.

However, that doesn’t mean all is lost. I said in the first episode of the Who Dat Report that I thought a playoff trip would be a successful season. Well, the Saints are almost definitely playoff-bound, so this has been a successful season. If they get the top wild card seed, then they’ll likely win their first playoff game against whichever team limps to the finish line in the NFC West. It’s just been frustrating, because the schedule was lined up for us to make a truly dominant march toward the playoffs, and it hasn’t happened.

Still, it’s been a great run in the Loomis/Payton/Brees era, and we should still have a few years of contention left. Let’s enjoy the fact that we’re writing negative columns about teams that are 9-3. We won’t have that luxury forever.