Tempering expectations: The Saints haven’t made the playoffs yet

Nov 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New Orleans Saints fans celebrate during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi
Nov 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New Orleans Saints fans celebrate during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi /

The Saints are 4-4, and fans can finally smile about their team. But don’t get carried away. They haven’t made the playoffs yet, and recent history suggests that the Saints are headed for another letdown.

Sports fans have a tendency to react melodramatically. Lose a game, the sky is falling. Win a game, that’s it, we’re Superbowl bound. There’s been a fair amount of that for Saints fans this year, who, at 0-3, were justifiably ready to call the season a wash.

But the team has now won 4 of its last 5 games. I won’t lie, they’ve got me thinking playoffs. And I think we’ve earned the right for a little optimism. But, looking back at history, there’s reason for doubt.

Let’s take last year. The first half of 2015 was eerily similar. The Saints opened up the season 0-3, with loses to AZ, TB, and CAR. They then beat the Cowboys, lost to the eagles, and won their next three games to come, with plenty of momentum, to 4-4. They promptly lost their next four games, and bam, the season was in the drain.

Okay, what about 2014? The Saints lost their first two, split the next four, and then won two straight to arrive, again with some momentum, at 4-4. Then they lost their next three.

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And in 2012, the Saints really stumbled out of the gate at 0-4. They managed to catch themselves, right the ship, and win five of the next six to come to 5-5. They dropped their next three.

History hasn’t been kind to Sean Payton and the Saints recently. They fight tooth and nail to reclaim a season that seemed lost, somehow manage to steady themselves, and promptly stumble back down. Looking down the schedule, it’s not hard to see how the Saints might fall into a similar trap. They face the fearsome Denver Broncos next week, and then have a short week before flying to Carolina to play an angry Panthers team with a chip on its shoulder. Those are two easily losable games.

At the same time, there’s reason to believe this year will be different. New Orleans is only now starting to recover from the slew of injuries that crippled them in the early games. And Payton repeatedly talked about how young this team is, and how crucial it is that they continue to develop.

Well, we’ve seen plenty of development from the youth on offense and defense, as well as improving chemistry for a very refurbished defense that may finally be coming into its own.

And there it is, my reason for hope. It just makes sense that this team would play its best football in the second half of the season. I’m hoping. We deserve some playoff football.

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Not to mention that two of those end-of-season losing streaks, in 2014 and in 2012, started with losses to the 49ers. So hopefully we’ve just broken whatever this curse is.