Midseason Stock Watch: Saints

Power Rankings: Preseason: 2. This week: 9.

2010 schedule/results

Where they stand: They’re the defending Super Bowl champions, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to their fans, coaches and players. The Saints haven’t been nearly as dominant as last year, when they won their first 13 games. The offense hasn’t been nearly as explosive and the defense hasn’t been as opportunistic. But the fact is, the Saints are 6-3. They’re only a game behind division leader Atlanta in the loss column and no NFC team has won more games than the Saints.

Falling: Pierre Thomas. The running back was one of the unsung heroes in the Super Bowl run. He was an important role player last year, but he has become a non-factor this year. Thomas suffered an ankle injury early and hasn’t been able to get back on the field. There have been some rumblings out of New Orleans that the coaching staff and front office aren’t very happy with Thomas and he might not have much of a role when he comes back. He’s not under contract for next year, so it’s not looking like Thomas has much of a future in New Orleans.

Rising: Sedrick Ellis. The Saints took a lot of criticism for using a first-round pick on Ellis during his first two years. He didn’t have great production, but that mostly was because he was hurt a lot. Ellis has been healthy this year and it’s looking like the Saints didn’t make a mistake in using a first-round pick on him.

Midseason MVP: Drew Brees. No, the quarterback isn’t having the same kind of super-human season he did a year ago. But Brees still is pretty darn good and one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Nobody said defending the title would be easy, but the Saints are still very much in the mix, which is more than can be said for a lot of other recent Super Bowl champions. That’s largely because Brees, the unquestioned leader of this team, has helped the Saints stay focused.

Outlook: As inconsistent as the Saints have been at times, they actually are in very good shape. They have a bye this week and that should help running back Reggie Bush and a few other injured players get healthy. Look at the schedule after the bye. The Saints play Seattle, Dallas, Cincinnati and St. Louis. If they simply do what they should do, that will put them at 10 wins before they close with Baltimore, Atlanta and Tampa Bay. With the talent the Saints have, it’s entirely possible they could be clicking by the time they face those late-season challenges and that could put them well into double-digit wins.