Here's a look at the first half of the season for the New Orleans Saints and a preview of what to expect in the second half:
First-half snapshot: The Saints are coming awfully close to the "near perfection" category after a scorching six-game win streak and one of their most thorough wins yet Sunday -- a 30-10 romp over Tampa Bay. And most remarkably, they've been leaning on a suddenly-dominant defense and their run game even more than Drew Brees and the passing offense so far. Since Week 3, the Saints are ranked No. 2 in the NFL in yards allowed and tied for second in points allowed. A few of New Orleans' wins have come with some hiccups -- as Sean Payton himself stressed last week, "We're still chasing a perfect four quarters of football, as opposed to a good half at Carolina or a good half at Green Bay." But that being said, the Saints have perfected the art of finding ways to win -- something that had eluded them during three straight 7-9 seasons. Grade: Above average.
Midseason MVP: You could make a strong case for rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore or the entire draft class in general (including running back Alvin Kamara, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and safety Marcus Williams). But I'll go with defensive end Cameron Jordan, who should be in the running for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year if he keeps up his game-changing pace. The 6-foot-4, 287-pound Jordan has used his rare combination of power and athleticism to tally seven sacks, 14 quarterback hits, eight tackles for loss, four pass defenses and an interception for a touchdown.
Best moment: For pure joy, it was the 52-38 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 6, which included three defensive touchdowns -- highlighted by Jordan's batted pass and interception in the end zone. But the most important moment was New Orleans' 34-13 win at Carolina in Week 3 after a dreadful 0-2 start. The Saints were in a bad place at that point, having gotten blown out in the first two games. But they flipped the script by dominating their division rivals, who were 2-0 at the time. The young defense's confidence only grew from there.
Worst moment: Hands down, it was the season opener at Minnesota on Monday Night Football. The Saints thought their defense was on the verge of a turnaround during the preseason. Instead, they allowed Sam Bradford to throw for 346 yards and three touchdowns in a 29-19 Vikings victory, with receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs roaming wide open through coverage breakdowns. Worse yet, new Saints running back Adrian Peterson and the rest of New Orleans' run game got run into the ground -- leading to a week's worth of stories about how it appeared that Peterson was griping at Payton on the sideline.
Second-half outlook: It's a scary thought that New Orleans is already 6-2 and still hasn't played its best football on offense yet. If Brees can start hitting more consistently on the deep ball and the Saints can clean up their third-down percentage (ranked 13th in the NFL instead of their usual No. 1), this could be the Saints' most complete team in years -- one that is genuinely dangerous enough to vie for the Super Bowl in a wide-open NFC. Oddly enough, we'll find out a lot about the Saints in their next two road games at the 5-3 Buffalo Bills in Week 10 and the 6-2 Los Angeles Rams in Week 12. Who would've predicted that two months ago?