The New Orleans Saints are 7-2 and tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the longest win streak in the NFL at seven games.
Those victories have come by an average margin of 18.4 points for the first-place team in the NFC South.
So far this season, New Orleans has been one of the elite teams in the NFL, but one of its biggest challenges early in the second half of the season is to avoid losing focus as the praise can become a distraction.
Head coach Sean Payton said it's something he addresses "every day."
"We talk about realities of today each week and the understanding of we're just past the midway point of the season and yet the experts will be talking playoffs, Super Bowl," Payton said Wednesday. "It's the craziest stuff ever and tune it out and laugh at it, understand what it is, but there's so much more we have to do and accomplish and we just have to look at it like we have been with the win-the-day approach. Practice well, (concentrate on) preparation and get ready for this game. The other stuff can be toxic."
The Saints' next game comes against the Washington Redskins (4-5) on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Payton said he had on his desk a stack of requests for his time that "would choke you" -- many more than he is able to accommodate.
"(We are) just trying to make sure they understand, here's our weekly schedule and understand that this is the formula and be respectful and make ourselves available, but not at the expense of the process," Payton said.
The process has produced as balanced a team as there is in the NFL. New Orleans is second in total offense and tied for fifth in total defense. Each week its defense and run game are getting better.
"I don't think we've played our best football," quarterback Drew Brees said. "I know that the challenge is only becoming greater as we go along here. The ultimate goal of this season was not to be 7-2. The ultimate goal is to continue to put ourselves in position to win the division and go to the playoffs and see what happens. I think we're an ascending team. We're (getting) better every week. We've found a bunch of different ways to win and have a lot of guys playing well and (guys) gaining a lot of confidence along the way.
"I think the big message this week was nothing is guaranteed. You have to come out and earn it each week and it starts with your preparation. You are not going to make plays in the game that you do not make in practice. That's why our practices are fast, intense, (and have) a lot of energy. Guys are competing and we still feel like we have a lot to prove."
26th regular-season meeting. Redskins lead series, 17-8, including a 47-14 victory in the last meeting in 2015 at FedExField. Washington has a 9-3 record in games played in New Orleans, including 7-1 in the Superdome -- most recently prevailing 40-32 in 2012. New Orleans' last victory was a 33-30 overtime triumph in 2009 at FedExField. The Saints overcame three deficits to claim one of the signature regular-season victories of their Super Bowl season. They scored 10 points in the final half of the fourth quarter to force overtime as they improved their record to 12-0.
One of the Saints' primary goals coming into this season was to surpass the 7-9 record they have finished with in each of the last three seasons. They appear certain to easily surpass that mark, perhaps as early as this Sunday. The last time they won more than seven games was 2013, when they finished 11-5 and last made the playoffs..
The New Orleans offense has struggled with third-down conversions this season, but it has gotten gradually better of late. The Saints failed to convert more than 50 percent of their third downs in any of the first five games and converted just 36.7 percent during that time. In the last four games, they have exceeded 50 percent twice and converted 46.9 percent another time. For the season they rank ninth in the NFL at 41 percent.
"It's a week-to-week thing," head coach Sean Payton said. "We've improved it, but we'll play a good third-down defense here this weekend. The numbers have gone up and that's encouraging, but again it's something that doesn't just stay static. You're getting better there or you're not, so hopefully we'll continue to make it a point of emphasis."
The Saints found a replacement for injured running back Daniel Lasco when they signed Jonathan Williams off the Denver Broncos' practice roster. Saints running backs coach Joel Thomas coached Williams in 2013 and 2014 at Arkansas. Williams was a fifth-round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills in 2016 and played in 11 games for them last season before being released at the end of this preseason and signing with the Broncos. Payton said Thomas' relationship with Williams helped lure the running back, who also had an offer from the Atlanta Falcons, to New Orleans.
"We remember very clearly when he came out of Arkansas, two running backs came out that year (Williams and Alex Collins)," Payton said. "We kept track of him and fortunately we were able to sign him. He is excited about becoming a Saint. He has the makeup, the fit, all the intangibles I think are important."
Lasco will miss the rest of the season because of a spine injury he suffered during the game at Buffalo last Sunday.
After not committing a turnover in any of their first four games, the Saints have committed at least one in each of their last five games and a total of 10. At plus-3 for the season, they are 11th in the NFL in turnover margin.
QB Drew Brees is one of the most accurate passers in NFL history and so far he is surpassing even his lofty standard. Brees, who has had a completion percentage of 70 or higher three times in his previous 16 seasons, leads the NFL with a career-high 71.7 percentage. His previous high of 71.2 in 2011 is second in NFL history behind the Vikings' Sam Bradford's 71.6 last season, which Brees is on pace to surpass.
LB A.J. Klein (ankle) did not practice Wednesday.
T Terron Armstead (rest) was limited in practice.
S Kenny Vaccaro (groin), who missed last week's game, was limited.
CB De'Vante Harris (hamstring) was limited.
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