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Week 16 Saints Power Rankings: Saints defense creating believers out of skeptics

The Saints pretty consistently moved into the Top 20, which in a league that now fields 14 playoff teams is a big jump

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NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 7 seed in conference playoffs is working exactly as intended. With their shutout 9-0 over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New Orleans Saints now find themselves in a three-way tie with the Eagles and Vikings for the last spot in the NFC playoffs. It’s a wild change from two weeks ago, when the Saints were on a five-game losing streak and most analysts had them down for the count.

The Taysom Hill experience at quarterback may not be explosive, but with wins in each of their last two games, something is working. Even with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram having a quiet game against the Bucs’ potent run defense, the Saints’ defense was nothing short of spectacular against Tom Brady, who was missing some key weapons. Regardless, Saints stock is on the rise, and people are taking notice.

ESPN - #17 (From #22)

Payton’s job is perfectly secure — despite the fact that New Orleans just had one of its most impressive wins of the season without him on Sunday while he was sidelined by COVID-19. The Saints’ passing offense has fallen flat this season for the first time since Payton arrived in 2006. But overall, their 7-7 record is decent considering all the attrition they’ve faced with injuries, Drew Brees’ retirement and salary-cap cuts. The team might have to consider a significant roster rebuild in the near future, but the coaching staff remains a strength. — Mike Triplett

USA Today - #17 (From #22)

A defense that hung a shutout on Tom Brady for the first time in 15 years and is limiting opponents to a league-worst 43.6% touchdown rate in red-zone trips deserves more appreciation.

CBS - #22 (From #23)

That was an impressive showing at Tampa in beating the Bucs without Sean Payton. That defense was sensational.

NFL - #20 (From #23)

An upset win over Buccaneers — even a bruised and battered Bucs team — is worthy of significant praise, but can the Saints be taken seriously in the NFC given the limitations of their offense? Taysom Hill was a non-factor as both passer and runner of the football against Tampa Bay, and his high-stakes audition has been spotty, at best. New Orleans managed just 11 first downs on Sunday night on a paltry 3.5 yards per play. The three field goals produced by that output stood up because Cam Jordan and the New Orleans defense rattled Tom Brady before and after Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette all exited with injuries. Still, the Saints need to find more balance to play beyond the regular season.

Bleacher Report - #18 (From #23)

For most of the season, the New Orleans Saints have looked like a model of mediocrity. They’re too good to be bad, but they aren’t nearly good enough to be taken seriously as a postseason contender.

These Saints have already accomplished one surprising thing in 2021, though. They’ve once again swept the defending Super Bowl champions in the regular season.

Sunday night’s win in Tampa came against a Buccaneers offense that lost its top two wide receivers and its No. 1 running back during the game. But with Saints head coach Sean Payton sidelined by COVID-19, acting head coach Dennis Allen crafted a masterful game plan—one that left Sobleski duly impressed.

“Allen’s preparation and game plan was nothing short of spectacular,” he said. “New Orleans’ defensive effort against the Buccaneers on Sunday may have been the best singular performance by any side of the ball this season. In fact, the Saints are the first squad since 1970 to shut out the league’s No. 1 scoring offense at home. New Orleans has its problems on offense, but the Saints come to compete every week.”

Yahoo - #22 (From #23)

The win over the Buccaneers was huge for defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who guided the defense that shut out Tom Brady and filled in as interim head coach when Sean Payton was out due to COVID-19. Allen will get head-coaching interviews this offseason.

Sports Illustrated - #17 (From #18)

Watching how the expansive Taysom Hill/Alvin Kamara-led run game complements a defense that is often dominant, there will be no shortage of regret over the four starts (and resulting four losses) Sean Payton gave to Trevor Siemian, particularly since three of those were very winnable games. The path to the postseason is still there though, considering they finish with the Dolphins and Panthers at home before finishing up in Atlanta.

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