Week 15 of the NFL regular season is now in the books. Here are all of the major outlets’ power rankings. So how do the New Orleans Saints rank? (change from the previous week are in parentheses)
ESPN - #1 (+/-)
Biggest breakthrough: DT Sheldon Rankins. The 12th pick in the 2016 draft has been a solid starter throughout his career. But this season, he has really started to play at a Pro Bowl level, with eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss. He is a big part of the NFL’s No. 1 run defense. Rankins (6-foot-2, 305 pounds) has always been a great athlete for his size, but he said he went back to using more of his power this season to set up that athleticism.
USA Today - #1 (+/-)
They’ve been in gritty games lately, which might be a blessing when playoffs arrive. Another win, and they’ll be staying in New Orleans in January.
CBS - #1 (+/-)
The defense won the Panthers game for them, but the offense has to get untracked. They will this week against the Steelers.
NFL - #1 (+/-)
The Saints didn’t resemble anything close to an elite team Monday night, as the Panthers slowed down New Orleans’ top-shelf offense all game. What the Saints did accomplish was inching closer to home-field advantage by eking out a division road game, never an easy task in the NFL. Moreover, for all those fingering New Orleans’ weaknesses, you should remember that the Saints just finished up a three-game road trip: first, taking on a geeked-up Cowboys defense ready for blood like Kiefer Sutherland in “Lost Boys,” then battling the desperate Bucs (who were clinging to even more desperate playoff fantasies), then Carolina. The Panthers were also playing for their postseason lives, yet New Orleans outlasted dem boys, too. The Saints have so many ways they can beat your favorite team -- they are simply drawing on those resources more than they needed to earlier this season, when Drew Brees was torching secondaries on a weekly basis.
SB Nation - #2 (-1)
They’re back on top in the NFC this after grinding out a win against the failing Panthers on Monday night. Will they stay there? They have to play the Panthers one more time and next week, the Steelers, both home games. The Steelers game looks tough, but I expect them to have the offense firing on all cylinders again and thoroughly debunk the notion that the Steelers are a Super Bowl contender. New Orleans should be playing home games through the conference championship.
Bleacher Report - #1 (+/-)
At this point, there is little debate as to who has been the best team in the NFL this season.
New Orleans is coming off a season in which it was a Minnesota Miracleaway from the NFC Championship Game—and it has been even better this season. While winning 12 of their last 13 games, it has found different ways to win. Whether it be a 45-35 shootout against the Rams, a 48-7 blowout of the defending champs or a 12-9 slugfest against the Panthers on Monday night, the Saints are on the smiling side of the scoreboard just about every week.
With Drew Brees under center, New Orleans has been known for its high-powered passing attack. However, like last year, the defense has been pulling its weight. The unit ranks 11th in total defense and seventh in scoring defense.
Add that to the second-ranked offense and that’s a dangerous combination.
This is a Saints squad that doesn’t have a glaring weakness. Brees is an MVP candidate, the backfield duo of Alvin Kamara (860 rushing yards, 627 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns) and Mark Ingram (582 rushing yards and five touchdowns) have continued to put up big numbers, and Michael Thomas (1,267 yards and eight touchdowns) is one of the best receivers in the league. And as mentioned above, the defense is on top of its game.
Not only that, but New Orleans has proved it can win away from the Superdome. The Saints are 7-1 on the road this season, with their lone loss coming by a field goal to the NFC East-leading Cowboys.
New Orleans has the look of a team that is intent on avenging last year’s heartbreaking playoff loss, with Mike Jones of USA Today recently reporting the Saints have taken on Kobe Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality.” And that’s bad news for the rest of the league.
Yahoo - #1 (+/-)
I’m not quite sure what has happened to the Saints offense, but all that really mattered on Monday night was getting the win. Now they have two home games, and need to win just one, for the all-important No. 1 seed in the NFC.