NFL Power Rankings: Saints finally have a defense, and it's making them contenders

How many times in the past few years have we heard this: If only the New Orleans Saints could give Drew Brees a defense.

Brees, one of the generational quarterbacks of his time, has carried the Saints on his right arm for years, putting up gaudy numbers and having them go to waste because of his historically bad defenses.

That isn't the case this season. The Saints are tied atop the NFC South with a 6-2 record after ripping off six consecutive victories, including dominating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in New Orleans.

The Saints are doing it with defense, which hasn't forced Brees to need 400-yard passing games just to compete.

The Saints are still one of the NFL's top offenses, ranking sixth in the league in scoring at 27.1 points and second in yards (392.5 per game). But it's the defensive numbers that stand out. The Saints are tied with the Los Angeles Rams for ninth in scoring defense at 19.4 points per game. That's coming from a team that was 31st in scoring defense in 2016 at 28.4 points per game.

Credit goes to defensive coordinator Dennis Allen for improving a unit that is sprinkled with talented young players. Defensive lineman Cam Jordan should be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year honors, and corner Marshon Lattimore is a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.

The offense hasn't been asked to put up video-game numbers this season, even though I still think Brees can do so if need be. That's why this team is so intriguing right now and ranked fifth in my Power Rankings.

Coach Sean Payton is one of the great offensive minds in the league and Brees is still the sharpest quarterback at the line of scrimmage in the league. If needed, they can still light it up.

But in the six-game winning streak, the defense has given up 12.6 points per game, which is playoff good. They haven't exactly played a group of high-powered offenses -- they got the Packers without Aaron Rodgers -- but the improvement is still noteworthy.

Because of it, the Saints are a legitimate Super Bowl contender if things continue this way.

Biggest Movers
9 Cardinals
10 Texans
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Eagles The schedule is about to get a lot tougher the next month. We will know a lot more about them come December. -- 8-1-0
2 Patriots They come off the bye with a game at Denver, which is always a challenge for the Patriots. And the Broncos are desperate. -- 7-2-0
3 Steelers They come out of their bye looking like one of the more complete teams in the league. The division is basically theirs, but the second half should be about getting the No. 1 seed. -- 8-2-0
4 Rams They are not just a good story anymore. They are legitimate playoff contenders -- and maybe more. 1 7-2-0
5 Saints They continue to improve on defense, which is a good sign. They face a be-careful game this week in Buffalo. 2 7-2-0
6 Vikings They come off their bye in control of the division, despite all the injuries. They face a tough road challenge at Washington against the Redskins this week. 2 7-2-0
7 Cowboys They have it rolling with three consecutive victories. Now they have to wonder about when/if Ezekiel Elliott will serve his suspension. 4 5-4-0
8 Chiefs They've lost three of the last four to fall to 5-3 after the fast start. The defense just isn't as good as expected. 4 6-3-0
9 Panthers They are tied for the division lead after beating the Falcons with the re-emergence of Cam Newton as a playmaker. They next face Miami Monday at home. 4 7-3-0
10 Seahawks That loss to the Redskins is a major red flag for a team that appeared to be getting things going in a big way. Now they have to fix their issues on a short week at Arizona. 4 6-3-0
11 Jaguars They are becoming one of the league's tougher teams. That defense is impressive, but the improved play of Blake Bortles might be the reason they make the playoffs. 1 6-3-0
12 Bills They come off their loss to the Jets with a tough game at home against the Saints. They need to get the defense back on track. 3 5-4-0
13 Falcons They still don't look right on offense -- see Julio Jones' drop against the Panthers -- and now must face a hot Dallas team this week. Let's just say, they can't afford a loss. 3 5-4-0
14 Titans They beat the Ravens with an improved effort by the defense. They get the Bengals at home this week, and their offense is struggling, so the Titans should see more improved play from the defense. 2 6-4-0
15 Redskins That was an impressive victory at Seattle, considering all the injuries on the offensive line. In fact, it might have been a season saver. 4 4-5-0
16 Lions They snapped their three-game losing streak with their best game of the year against the Packers Monday night. Maybe that will get them going the rest of the way. 5 5-4-0
17 Ravens They just don't do enough on offense, which is why they will be sitting home come playoff time. Injuries have impacted this team in a big way. 3 4-5-0
18 Cardinals They won without Carson Palmer against the 49ers and now face a tough home game Thursday against the Seahawks. Can Adrian Peterson handle a lot of carries after getting 37 against the 49ers? 9 4-5-0
19 Chargers They come off the bye with a long trip to play the Jaguars in Jacksonville. If they are to make a push for a playoff berth, it's a must-win for them. 3 3-6-0
20 Raiders That was a critical road victory against the Dolphins as they head to the bye week. After that, it's the Patriots in Mexico. 4 4-5-0
21 Packers They are finding out what life is like without Aaron Rodgers -- and it isn't good. They are fading fast. 3 5-4-0
22 Dolphins If they are to have any playoff chance, they have to win on the road at Carolina next week. At least the offense showed some life against the Raiders. 7 4-5-0
23 Broncos The poor quarterback play has impacted the rest of the team. That dominant defense wasn't so dominant against the Eagles. 3 3-6-0
24 Jets Todd Bowles has done a nice job getting this team to 4-5 with an impressive victory last Thursday over Buffalo. They won't be an easy out for any opponent the rest of the way. 2 4-6-0
25 Bengals They are basically playing for next year, which means changes are probably coming. Is Marvin Lewis coming to the end? 2 3-6-0
26 Colts Andrew Luck may be gone for the year, but there are some young players showing up to build upon for the future. That's always a good thing. 3 3-7-0
27 Texans This team, as constituted because of major injuries, isn't very good. They have all types of issues. 10 3-6-0
28 Bears They come out of their bye with a home game against the Packers. The rest of this season is about the growth of Mitchell Trubisky. 3 3-6-0
29 Buccaneers A season that started with so much promise is falling apart. And now Jameis Winston will miss some time with a shoulder injury. It's bad in Tampa. 1 3-6-0
30 Giants This team looks like it has quit on coach Ben McAdoo. Ownership can't be happy about that. -- 1-8-0
31 49ers The sooner they get Jimmy Garoppolo on the field, the better off they will be. They have a winnable game at home against the Giants this week. -- 1-9-0
32 Browns All they did on the bye week was botch a trade for AJ McCarron because of paperwork issues. They just can't seem to get anything right. -- 0-9-0
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an... Full Bio

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