It’s hard to tell if the New Orleans Saints are toying with us this season or if they should be taken seriously.
Exhibit A: If they go turnover-free Sunday against Detroit at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans would become the first team in NFL history to do so in its first five games. As of now, the 2013 Tennessee Titans, ’95 Rams and ’17 Saints are only teams do it in their first four games.
The Saints are coming off their their first road shutout since 1995 -- in London, England, of all places.
Exhibit B: Since the start of the 2014 season, the Saints are the only NFL franchise not to eclipse the .500 mark at any point on their schedule -- 52 games and counting.
Think about it. At no point have the Saints been above the break-even point since losing at Seattle to the Seahawks and “The 12th Man’’ in the NFC divisional round of the 2013 season on Jan. 11, 2014.e
Fifty-two games. That’s tough to do, although the Saints managed to exceed that number a time or two under owners John Mecom and Tom Benson in 50-plus seasons.
They were on the cusp of eclipsing .500 in 2014, ’15 and ’16, climbing to 4-4 only to lose Game 9 and eventually finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs each season.
With a win Sunday against the Lions, the Saints would climb to .600 -- rarefied air these days for a team coached by Sean Payton.
“I’m not thinking about over .500 (or) anything (like that),’’ Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “It’s the next game but it’s a very important game. It would be a very important win just in our maturation process and for our season.’’
I wouldn’t expect Brees, the face of the franchise and the team’s resident voice of reason, to say anything different. In fact, he’s spot on. Defeating the Lions would indicate continuing growth as a team, especially since Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has been “their daddy’’ the past few seasons.
But this season feels different in Who Dat-ville, largely because the Saints appear to have assembled a competitive, no-name defense under coordinator Dennis Allen based upon consecutive stellar outings at Carolina (34-13) and against Miami (20-0) in London.
They are yielding yards and points at a much slower pace, not at the historical clip as in recent years, and playing complementary football.
Kicker Wil Lutz and punter Thomas Morstead are putting their best feet forward.
The ageless Brees continues to operate at a high level behind a patchwork offensive line that hopes to get starting left tackle Terron Armstead back on the field after working through a torn labrum. Slot receiver Willie Snead also could make his 2017 debut Sunday after dealing with a hamstring issue and serving a three-game suspension for DWI.
And Payton now has one less mouth to feed in the running game after dealing Adrian Peterson to Arizona for a conditional sixth-round pick in 2018, leaving more touches for Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara.
So the table is set.
It’s time for Saints to bust a move above .500.
If not now, when?
Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at email@example.com.