A winning record. Above .500. Room to breathe.
It last happened for the New Orleans Saints in 2013, the year they finished 11-5, won the franchise's first-ever road playoff game (at Philadelphia) and ducked out in the divisional round with a loss at Seattle where visiting teams usually go to die.
That '13 team featured the likes of Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Malcolm Jenkins, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, Nick Toon, Ben Grubbs, Brian de la Puente, Kenny Stills, Jed Collins, Akiem Hicks, Brodrick Bunkley, Junior Galette, Garrett Hartley, Curtis Lofton, Parys Haralson and Jabari Greer, among others. You'll need a GPS to find them all today.
Twenty-four games and a bunch of new faces later, the Black and Gold find themselves one victory away from reaching the NFL standard of relevance, one victory away from standing on terra firma, one victory away from returning to a place where they had roosted for so many years under coach Sean Payton. 5-4 may not sound like much to those franchises and fan bases currently in higher standing but it does warm the cockles of the heart for Who Dat Nation.
Never miss a local story.
The lowly Tennessee Titans, a team that has lost six straight games and now performs under the direction of interim coach Mike Mularkey, stand between the Saints and a winning record.
It's a very winnable game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a must game in a sense for a Saints team that seems to be settling into a comfort zone now that key players are getting healthy and working their way back into the lineup.
The Saints are prohibitive favorites on their home turf, meaning they should win, meaning they can ill-afford a misstep against an inferior opponent.
Quarterback Drew Brees shouldn't have to toss seven TD passes again or throw for 500 yards as he did in triumph against the defenseless New York Giants. Half of that should do. He might encounter tougher sledding against the Titans anyway since they rank third league-wide in pass defense (197.9 YPG) and fifth in total yards (316.6 YPG).
The Saints need only play their game -- the 4-1 game, not the 0-3 game -- nothing more, nothing less.
Brees and company need to be efficient, score touchdowns and not settle for field goals. The defense needs to get off the field on third down, create takeaways and put constant pressure on Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has missed the past two games with a sprained left knee.
Special teams also must do its share, specifically kicker Kai Forbath, punter Thomas Morstead and return specialist Marcus Murphy.
Complementary football all but ensures a Saints victory and that seemingly elusive winning record.
And to think this team appeared to be a lost cause one month ago at 1-4.
Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.