I was wrong when I wrote that the Saints were the NFL's best team back in October. Even then, they showed signs of leaky rush defense, a flaw that will probably prove fatal, though their knack for shootout victories seemed more like evidence of a great team winning the close ones.
Now, it seems hard to conclude that the perpetual thrill ride the Saints have been on is propelled by excellence. They have given up 30 points to both the Dolphins and Redskins, conceded 20+ in eight games, and increasingly rely on their quarterback or turnover-happy defense to win them games.
Even worse, it appears they have barely been tested: Wins against the Eagles, Giants and Patriots are the best pelts in the Saints' collection, but none of those teams have fewer than four losses. They won't get a team with a better record than that until the playoffs: Dallas is the only winning team remaining on the slate.
So discard the notion that the Saints are a powerhouse. It makes them far easier to appreciate for what they are: The most exciting NFL team this decade.
That excitement is generated mostly by the offense. Drew Brees is a legitimately great quarterback, and has an outside shot at throwing for 40 TDs and over 4,000 yards this year, which would put him in the company of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Dan Marino, and, tellingly, Kurt Warner. And Brees' team reminds many of those Rams under Warner when "The Greatest Show on Turf" was a nascent nickname: Both teams came equipped with a slew of skill position talents led by a once-dismissed thrower with a fast, indoor home field.
It's the defense that makes these Saints standouts. They have a host of players on their second or third teams on this unit (Darren Sharper, Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Mike McKenzie, Chris McAlister), and they seem as explosive as they are flammable. St. Louis' defense was nondescript, and remains so: The name most will associate with that team's defensive squad is Mike Jones, famous for one play only.
And, of course, these are easily embraced people, theses Saints, as they packaged as an easily-scripted post-Hurricane Katrina rise from the ashes that has some calling them America's team.
But this team's appeal is not about their story.
It's about their brand of football. It's about the way these Saints make offense a fireworks show with the always-popular vertical passing attack, and the sense that they really are charmed, stripping interceptions and turning them into touchdowns, snaring pick-sixes at an absurd rate, beating down all opponents at home, and generally leaving all onlookers breathless.
They're very good, not great, but these Saints would be a little less exciting if they were a little closer to excellent. This run will end, probably at the hands of a more powerful Vikings team in the NFC playoffs, but it will be exhilarating until the last second.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.