Pictured above: The interior of the Saints' offensive line caves in during a loss to St Louis in 2011. Remember this. It'll be on the exam.
And so the Saints crushed Carolina, exactly how we said they would. Only three games remain in the regular season and the Saints have a full game lead and nearly all relevant tiebreaker advantages over Carolina, so both the NFC South title and probable two seed in the playoffs seem easily within reach.
And they are. Except.
Except there's the pesky problem of the St Louis Rams, the Saints' upcoming opponent, whom the Payton-era franchise has never quite completely figured out.
Let's take a look at the Saints vs the Rams in this era, and then figure out what the Saints' relative struggles against Carolina over the recent past might mean for the rest of this season — and in the playoffs.
Long-time Saints fans know what it feels like to lose big, but the team has been good long enough now for some very young fans to not really comprehend it.
"I'm glad they're winning," a kid, sitting behind me in the Dome during the game against Buffalo, told his dad. "But they should be winning by more."
Ten year-old Bradley, throwing paper planes from the terrace in 1995, would have been staggered by the ability of any Saints fan, old or young, to make such a statement.
Losing big just doesn't happen much anymore. Since 2009, when what we folks over at B&G refer to as the current phase of the Payton era began, the Saints have only lost ten games by more than one score (or 8 points — a touchdown plus a two point conversion).
The meaningful number is even less than that. Four of the ten losses happened in 2012, sans Sean Payton; another of them was the season finale against Carolina in 2009, when no starters played. Another of the losses was to Tampa in 2010, when the starters were pulled early.
That leaves only three games, not including the new loss to Seattle.
But we're not here just to say the Saints don't lose badly very often. That doesn't help much when you've just lost very badly.
Let's take a look at what happens after the Saints lose badly, so that we might get an idea for what'll happen in the latest biggest game of the year vs Carolina.
It seems likely the team will take one of only two paths from here on out.
Common argument: The Saints aren't a great road team; they aren't a good cold weather team; they certainly can't win on the road in the playoffs because, after all, they never have.
You can slice the evidence any number of ways. The Saints' average margin of victory falls significantly on the road compared to their margin in the Dome, and yet the Saints have, at 24-13, the NFL's best road record since 2009.
Mike Triplett, blogging over at ESPN, noticed the Saints have a 5-7 record under Sean Payton in games played outdoors in December and January. Given the upcoming contest in Seattle, which you may have heard of — a game that may well determine the NFC's top seed, putting the winner of it on the fast track to the Super Bowl — that stat isn't comforting.
But let's take a look at those games in context, because the numbers alone don't tell us a whole lot.
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