State of despair: Saints

A quick look at a team that has not met expectations and is struggling.

What’s gone wrong: The old cliché about a “Super Bowl hangover’’ probably explains some of what’s happened to the Saints (4-3). It’s not that they spent too much time celebrating their win. It’s just that following up a dream season like last year – and doing it in the same spectacular fashion – is almost impossible.

The Saints were playing a month longer than most teams last season and that disrupted the rhythm of the offseason. They’ve also had a series of injuries at key positions, namely cornerback (Randall Gay, Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer each have missed time) and running back (Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas have missed significant time).

The Saints are a walking target for every opponent who wants to make their season by knocking off the champions. They returned pretty much the whole Super Bowl roster, but the Saints haven’t looked much like last year’s team.

How to fix them: Getting healthy would be a great way to start. Bush appears to be close to returning, and the bye week is coming up Nov. 14. If the Saints can stay above water in the short term, the second half of their schedule doesn’t look all that difficult.

Quarterback Drew Brees has struggled and the defense hasn’t been as opportunistic as it was a year ago. But those might not be permanent conditions. Brees and the defense each have the talent to start clicking at any moment, and that could make the Saints dangerous again.

Panic meter: About three degrees shy of the boiling point. Sunday night’s game with the Steelers should tell us everything about the Saints. If they win, they’re right in the thick of things. If they lose, they’ll be trying to play catch up in the second half of the season.

Coach on the hot seat? Sean Payton might not be looking quite like the “genius’’ he was a year ago. But this guy still has silver polish from the Lombardi Trophy on his fingers. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon.