From the bet-you-didn't-know-that files: The New Orleans Saints offense, seven games into the 2014 season, is almost as good as the team's world-shattering 2011 offense
The difference between this team and that one, of course, is in the category of wins. But what if I told you the only reason the 2014 Saints have won fewer games than the 2011 Saints at this same point is a statistical anomaly?
NFL teams, over long periods of time, tend to win about half of their close games. This is because football games are complex things full of random and semi-random events, any one of which can change the result of a close contest. See the last few minutes of the Saints' loss to the Detroit Lions, for example: A couple of unusual things happened, and if any one of those unusual things didn't happen the Saints would have won.
Since 2006, the Saints have played 63 games determined by 8 points or fewer, and their record in those games is 33-30. It's close to .500, in other words.
And so now take another look at the Saints' 2014 season so far. Particularly, let's check out what the Saints did over the first five weeks of the season, before their bye week.
Notice that the Saints played three close, one-score games. They lost two of them.
Let's check out the first five weeks of 2011.
How about that: The Saints played three close, one-score games in the first five weeks of 2011, too, but they won two of them. Had a handful of individual plays happened differently in any of the three games, the entire result might have changed. Simply going 1-2 in those games, as the Saints did early this year, would have changed the Saints' solid 4-1 start in 2011 to a disappointing 2-3 mess. But nothing would have been substantively different about the team itself.
That's why the dominance of the Saints' offense so far is so important. It's evidence that the 2014 team is, has been, and will continue to be better than your opinion of it these past two months. And it's a thing that supports the idea the Saints can compete even beyond the struggling NFC South.
For a while, the 2014 Saints looked most similar to the 2008 version of the team. But, as the sample size expands, the story they're telling seems to about an unluckier version of the greatest offense you've ever watched. This team is loaded with firepower, with plenty of good moments yet to come.
All stats via Pro Football Reference.