Let’s build a straw man. The straw man is a New Orleans Saints fan who is unimpressed by the team’s season so far. The fan might feel the team has been too sloppy, or the fan is very focused on some weak aspect or other. The fan may even feel that the Saints’ season is in trouble because, even though the Saints are 6-2 and lead their division now, they’ve built that record on the easy part of their schedule.
The Saints haven’t beaten any good teams yet, and they have to play a lot of good ones very soon. Bad news.
We’re going to tackle that last point by taking a look at the quality of the Saints’ wins and losses through the first half of the season compared to how well they’ve done in the past.
You can slice these numbers a lot of ways. This year, the Saints have beaten three teams with a halfway point record of .500 or better. That’s half their wins, and it’s fairly similar to what the team did in 2011, when, at 5-3, it had beaten two 5-3 teams.
The 2010 season is important because that’s the team to which the 2013 Saints seem to get compared most often. The halfway point winning percentage of the five teams the Saints beat through the first eight games of that year was .425, significantly better than the .367 number of this season. It’s important to note that 2010’s number is skewed upwards by that Halloween slugfest win over Pittsburgh, though.
Otherwise, the quality of wins so far in 2013 compares favorably to what the Saints have done in their other most successful years under Sean Payton, with the notable exception of 2009, of course, which is an outlier.
But quality of wins is only half the story. The other half is quality of losses, and it’s here that the 2013 Saints are far and away better than any non-2009 team - 2009 again being the exception because, you know, the Saints simply didn’t lose until their fourteenth game.
Through eight games, the Saints have beaten every team they’ve played with a .500 record or worse. That hasn’t happened since 2009.
In 2011? They lost to 1-7 St Louis-notably winless before their win over the Saints. In 2010 it was 2-5 Cleveland. (We won’t talk about irrelevant 2012 - but you know how that went.)
What’s all this mean? It means the 2013 Saints have, all things considered, done very well for themselves so far. They haven’t blown games to terrible teams, and half their victories are over teams that are .500 or better. They’ve positioned themselves admirably for the part of their season that will be the biggest test: The next five games.
And make no mistake: This next month or so is going to be a tough test, and will go a long way towards determining the Saints’ fortunes in their prospective playoff run.
Here’s what they’re dealing with.
The Saints’ next five opponents (Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, and Carolina) currently have a combined record of 26-16 and a winning percentage of .619.
How does that compare to similar stretches in the past? The 2009 and 2010 Saints won all five games following the season’s halfway point, but neither team faced such daunting opposition. The 2011 team, though - which also won all five games - had an even tougher task.
In 2011, the teams the Saints played in the five games after the half point had a midseason winning percentage of .625 - in other words, about the same as the overall record of the teams the Saints are about to face.
Of course, that was 2011. This is 2013. The only guide we have for what the Saints will do over the next five weeks is what they have done so far this year. And, in that regard, based on the numbers above, they’ve probably done better than you think.
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