Few expected them to drop their first four games.
Few expected them to get back in the playoff hunt.
They did both.
Proving again that truth is often stranger than fiction, the New Orleans Saints have rebounded from a horrible start to win four of their last five games, capping the run Sunday with a thrilling 31-27 victory over the Atlanta Falcons inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Of course, to reach the postseason, the Saints still have plenty of work to do. If the season were to end today, they’d be the No. 9 seed, three spots shy of the playoffs.
Also, the road ahead isn’t easy. Three of New Orleans’ next four games are away from the Superdome, beginning with Sunday’s trip to Oakland.
Speaking of which, the Raiders could be a troublesome team. They’re only 3-6, but quarterback Carson Palmer is having a nice year, and although the defense has under-performed, it’s talented enough to excel in spots. And the Saints are coming down from an emotional high after beating the previously undefeated Falcons.
In other words, this game could be a trap.
The Saints have to make sure it isn’t.
WHERE THEY STAND
The Saints are 4-5 after last week’s 31-27 win over the Falcons. They are third in the NFC South, one game behind second-place Tampa Bay and four games behind first-place Atlanta.
The Saints face the Raiders at 3:05 p.m. Sunday in Oakland. After that, they host San Francisco on Nov. 25 and play at Atlanta on Nov. 29.
JOB WELL DONERB Chris Ivory
What he’s done: Invisible for the Saints’ first seven games, Ivory has excelled over the past two weeks, averaging 7.1 yards per carry with two touchdowns. The emergence of Ivory and Mark Ingram has invigorated the Saints’ ground game, which gained 288 yards against the Eagles and Falcons.e_SFlbWhat’s next: Even if Darren Sproles doesn’t return from his hand injury, Ivory might not get as many carries Sunday. That’s because Pierre Thomas, Ingram, Ivory and even Travaris Cadet could share carries in the Saints’ suddenly powerful run game.
ON THE SPOTDT Sedrick Ellis
What he’s done: The former first-round pick ranks ninth on the team with 24 tackles — but truthfully, Ellis has all but disappeared. In the past two weeks, he has one solo tackle and one pass deflection.What’s next: Thanks to the re-emergence of Brodrick Bunkley — not to mention other tackles like Tom Johnson and Akiem Hicks — Ellis’ role on the defensive line seems to have diminished. His impact level certainly has. Pay attention to how many snaps Ellis plays compared to the others.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
72.6: The Saints averaged 72.6 rushing yards per game over their first seven weeks, ranking last in the NFL.
144.0:New Orleans averaged 144.0 rushing yards in their past two games, against the Eagles and Falcons. The Saints have averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
0:The Saints have 12 takeaways and 12 giveaways this season for a turnover margin of 0. They rank 14th in the NFL in turnover margin.
7,509:The Saints defense is on pace to allow 7,509 yards from scrimmage this season. That would shatter the NFL record for yards allowed in a season, set by the 1981 Baltimore Colts, who gave up 6,793 yards from scrimmage.
“Defensively, the Raiders are going to give us a lot of different looks. ... They’re tough. They are challenging. We are going to have our hands full.”
NFC SOUTH: JUDGMENT CALLS
What they’ve done:They’re still on track to clinch NFC home-field advantage. But they don’t look like a sure thing, either. This week’s game against Arizona is big.
What they’ve done: Shhhh. Very quietly, they’ve won four of their last five. They’re above .500 now. And they usually play hard.
What they’ve done: They face the physical Bucs at home. After that, the Panthers play three of four on the road. By the way: They’re 2-7.