Brian Allee-Walsh

Saints fans should be careful putting 49ers in win column

New Orleans Saints defensive end Paul Kruger sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
New Orleans Saints defensive end Paul Kruger sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Associated Press

Do I dare circle Sunday's road game at San Francisco as a "W'' and advance the born-again New Orleans Saints to 4-4 at the midway point of the 2016 season?

Is it possible Sean Payton's team has its groove on and should be taken seriously?

Or, should Who Dat Nation slow it down and proceed with extreme caution?

Here's the deal: The Black and Gold have been down this road before the past two seasons. That is, they have stumbled coming out of the gate, made a strong, hopeful move in October only to falter down the stretch in the telling months of November and December.

They have teased, tittilated, tantalized and disappointed, going from 1-3 (2014) and 1-4 (2015) to 4-4 and eventually finishing 7-9 and out of the playoffs each season.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the eternal optimist and unquestioned Mayor of Who Dat-ville, says "we've assembled the right type of guys ... that this team is different than the teams in the past, from the past two years especially.'' He goes on to say that team officials are "building something here'' and putting the "pieces in place for the long term.''

Which begs a few questions:

-- Why didn't the rebuilding (my word, not Brees') process and long-term approach begin sooner, if indeed it has begun as he suggests?

-- Why have General Manager Mickey Loomis and Payton seemingly taken a quick-fix, short-sighted approach the past few years to making the franchise relevant again?

I suspect the answer to both questions is two fold: One, Brees' prohibitive salary cap number limited Loomis' ability to maneuver effectively under the cap in terms of acquiring veteran difference makers; and secondly, Loomis and Payton have had more misses than hits in terms of player pay-outs and acquisitions.

But ultimately, team officials have not "assembled the right type of guys,'' at least not in the image and likeness of past Saints playoff teams since 2006.

It's way too early to proclaim this year's reclamation project a success, though recent victories over San Diego on the road and Carolina and Seattle at home are encouraging.

Another hopeful sign is the upcoming schedule.

What was considered a tough slate heading into the season suddenly doesn't look so daunting now. Only two teams with a winning record loom ahead -- Denver (6-2) and Atlanta (5-3). After next week's home game against the Broncos come Carolina (2-5), Los Angeles Rams (3-4), Detroit (4-4), Tampa Bay twice (3-4), Arizona (3-4-1) and the Falcons.

The challenge comes on the road at Carolina, Tampa Bay, Arizona and Atlanta.

Keep in mind, the Saints have not been above the .500 mark since 2013.

First things first.

Yes, the Saints are a solid favorite Sunday against the 1-6 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.

But they have to get to .500 first and the road goes through San Francisco.