When the Saints 2018 Regular Season schedule was released a few months ago, most observers and fans that follow the team closely had "checked off" their Week #2 game this coming Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the lowly Cleveland Browns, as an easy "W".
That was because Cleveland had only won 1 game in their last 32 attempts, following seasons of (1-15) and (0-16) the past 2 years.
But thanks to the unforseen results of Week #1; in which the Saints were embarrassed in a loss to the underdog Tampa Bay Buccaneers while the Browns managed to finish in a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers in a near upset, that check mark on the schedule may have been a bit premature.
As CBS Sports NFL writer John Breech noted the other day:
Even though the Browns didn't win on Sunday, they're still off to their best start in 14 years. A tie might not be a win, but it's definitely not a loss, which is why the Browns' (0-0-1) record looks so impressive in Cleveland.
Going into last Sunday's Week #1 game against the Steelers, the Browns had lost 13 openers in a row, meaning that before this year, the team had started 0-1 in every season since 2005. By tying the Steelers 21-21, the Browns finally.
Pittsburgh — who like the Saints are considered Super Bowl contenders — prevented the Browns from getting their first victory since 2016 when linebacker T.J. Watt blocked Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez's 43-yard field-goal attempt with 9 seconds left in OT.
The Steelers, who blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, also wasted their chance to escape with a win when Chris Boswell was wide left on a 42-yard field-goal attempt with 1:44 remaining in the extra period.
It was the NFL's first tie in Week 1 since 1971 and the league's first overall since Washington and Cincinnati ended in a 27-27 deadlock on Oct. 30, 2016.
''If you don't win,'' Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said to reporters afterwards, ''it feels like a loss.''
Nevertheless, Cleveland still remains winless since Dec. 24, 2016, but at least now they have achieved something positive after going (0-16) last season, just the 2nd team in league history EVER to lose ALL 16 games.
Which is exactly why a Saints team that's still "licking its wounds" from last Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had better not make the mistake of taking this Browns team "lightly" this Sunday when the two teams meet at the Superdome.
The Browns — somewhat slowly but methodically — are beginning to break away from their pitiful ways, and are building themselves into a legitimate competitor week in and week out.
Now granted, the Browns coaching situation will always be an unresolved issue until Hue Jackson proves he can win games like the one against the Steelers, but the Browns are starting to accumulate enough pure talent to potentially become a winning team again in the not-too-distant future.
Current Browns starting QB Tyrod Taylor may mot be the next Warren Moon by any stretch of the imagination, but he's proven that he can be a legitimate NFL quarterback who's capable of winning games if given the opportunity.
Last Sunday against the Steelers, Taylor threw for just short of 200 yards, a touchdown, and a pick while gaining an additional 77 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
But if there's one area in which the Saints need to be well-prepared for, it's against the Browns receiving game.
We all saw the Saints defensive secondary yield over 400 passing yards and 4 TD's to the Buccaneers wide receivers this past Sunday, and their task won't be any easier against the Browns WR's.
Former LSU star and Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry impressed in his Browns debut as he hauled in 7 catches for 106 yards, and is slowly beginning to establish a bond with Taylor over the past several months.
Then of course on the opposite of Landry is the extremely fast Josh Gordon; who finally has returned to the field in a limited role after missing extended time due to his inability to remain clean and pass the NFL's substance abuse guidelines (marijuana) over the past few seasons.
Gordon missed the entire Pre-Season but against the Steelers last Sunday, had a nice contested catch for 17 yards and a touchdown to tie the game late in the 4th quarter.
And perhaps most worrisome of all given the Saints' struggles with covering tight ends in recent seasons, Browns TE David Njoku has become a formidable offensive "weapon" in his own right. Njoku (pronounced EN-JOE-KOO) is essentially a gigantic wide receiver with great deep speed, lined up as a tight end.
The Browns running game isn't nearly as threatening as their passing game, but RB's Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb are more than capable of making an impact.
Defensively, Cleveland is led by their own pair of "young superstars" with defensive end / edge pass rusher Myles Garrett and rookie CB and 2018 1st Round pick Denzel Ward.
Coming off the edge against the Steelers, Garrett was COMPLETELY UNSTOPPABLE — recording 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and 2 forced fumbles.
Meanwhile, Ward led a Browns secondary that was tasked with matching up against Steelers All-Pro WR Antonio Brown and emerging star JuJu Smith-Schuster for the entire game.
But in a very similar manner to the way Marshon Lattimore excelled in coverage as a rookie for the Saints last year, Ward picked off Roethlisberger twice, and only allowed 50 yards on 6 catches on passes thrown his way.
Bottom line: this Cleveland team is VERY close to making a "break through" and turning things around.
And it's for that reason alone why the Saints had better not make the mistake of taking this Browns team "lightly" this Sunday.