Power Rankings: No. 6 New Orleans Saints

A weekly examination of the Saints’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 14 | Last Week: 5 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

My, how times have changed over the past month. The Saints (10-5) were the No. 2 team on this list to begin December. But after losing three of their past four games, they seem lucky to still be ranked No. 6. That seems generous for a team that still hasn’t even clinched a playoff berth heading into Week 17.

It’s a fair spot for the Saints, though. They’re essentially the highest-ranked “second tier” team behind the solid top five of Seattle, Denver, Carolina, San Francisco and New England. The Saints didn’t get a single top-five vote from the six-person ESPN.com panel.

The Saints are probably still ranked this high because they have the highest ceiling of any team outside the top five. But they’re going to have to start proving it -- first at home against Tampa Bay on Sunday, then likely on the road in the playoffs (where they’ve obviously underachieved all year long).

As safety Malcolm Jenkins said Monday, the Saints believe they are “going to be a team to reckon with” once they get into the playoffs. But can they be that team consistently?