Saints coach Sean Payton knows exactly how tricky this week’s game against the Panthers could be. He was in almost the exact same scenario last year in Week 17 and it turned into a disaster.
New Orleans entered the final week of the 2010 season with a chance to win the NFC South and a bye. The Saints had a tough matchup against an up-and-coming division opponent — the Bucs.
The Saints needed to win that game, and hope that the Falcons lost to one of the worst teams in the NFL — the 2010 Panthers.
So what happened?
The Saints played to win until the fourth quarter, and still lost the game. New Orleans also lost three starters to injury during the contest, including safety Malcom Jenkins. The Falcons won going away. The next week the Saints lost in Seattle, in large part because of Jenkins’ absence.
The scenario this year is almost identical. This time, the Saints are fighting for a bye with the 49ers. San Francisco faces one of the worst teams in football (St. Louis) and the Saints face an up-and-coming division foe — Carolina.
Saints coach Sean Payton indicated Wednesday he’s approaching this game the same way as last year. All starters will play.
“We’re going into it full speed ahead,” Payton said via Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
It’s the only choice. Last year’s results were unfortunate, but that doesn’t mean Payton was wrong.
The Saints simply can’t risk not playing to win if they have any chance at earning a bye. Imagine if Drew Brees was on the bench while the Rams upset San Francisco. The Saints would essentially be passing on a week off and a home game in the Divisional Round.
In theory, Payton could keep an eye on the 49ers-Rams game. If San Francisco got way ahead, the Saints could pull their starters. Payton says he won’t pay attention to the 49ers game, which is a little hard to believe.
Either way, don’t expect to see a lot of Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel on Sunday.