The Saints are halfway through their season, and it feels like now is an excellent time to appreciate how magical their past two months have been. Not even the most ardent Saints supporter would have pictured them in this position before the season started. A six-game win streak has them sitting with a 6-2 record, leading their division and firmly in the race to earn a bye week for the playoffs.
Sure, at 6-3, the Panthers are only half a game behind the Saints, but their inconsistency makes them feel unthreatening. Not to mention that they recently traded away Kelvin Benjamin, their top offensive threat. Further, they already were dismantled by the Saints at home and are unlikely to fare much better against them at the Superdome. The only thing stopping the Saints from taking the division title is themselves, and for the first time in years, I feel confident that this won’t be an issue.
This Sunday’s win over the Buccaneers was not only significant because it was against a division rival, but also because it was the Saints’ best all-around showing of the year. The final 30-10 score, although lopsided, does not do justice to the way the Saints manhandled the Bucs. It’s true the Bucs haven’t been a dominant team this year, but ensuring that weak teams can’t hang stay in the game is a critical part of being an elite NFL team. Brees completed over 80% of his passes and looked near perfect with a season-high passer rating of 131.9. The running backs keep on improving, most notably Kamara. He put on an absolutely electrifying performance with 68 rushing yards and a TD on only ten carries to go along with his six receptions for 84 yards and receiving TD.
Mickey Loomis, the Saints GM, and everyone else that was in the Saints war room the last two years deserves a lot of the credit for this turnaround. Although it’s still too early to tell, the Saints’ past two draft classes appear to be the best in the league, even though they only had 12 total picks. Of those 12 picks, eight of them have become key contributors for the Saints. Considering that two of those picks were 6th and 7th rounders, this is an incredible hit rate. Vonn Bell, Marshon Lattimore, and Marcus Williams have helped remake a secondary which was ranked the league’s worst last year, and Lattimore is probably the front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year right now. Sheldon Rankins and Alex Anzalone (although only playing four games before going on IR) have solidified a previously shaky front seven. On the offensive side, Michael Thomas, Ryan Ramczyk, and Alvin Kamara have all turned into stars. This young and talented group of players will make sure that the Saints not only remain contenders for this season but also for the remainder of the Drew Brees era.
PHOTOS: Michael DeMocker