Over recent years, the NFL has done its best to take that question out of the hands of coaches and players. In an effort to keep competition at its highest, the NFL has back loaded division contests towards the end of the season. The result…interesting and meaningful games through week 17, barring the teams that have clinched the number one seed and the first round bye.
Entering week 17, the Saints 13-2, have won their division and are guaranteed at least the three seed. With a win on Sunday against Carolina, and a St. Louis upset over San Francisco, the Saints would find themselves in the two seed and with a bye week.
So here is the quandary: play your starters with full force in the remote chance the Niners lose, or a more conservative approach that would give our guys a “mini-bye” going into wild card weekend. Sean Payton has openly stated “full steam ahead”…here’s why I think he is right:
Everyone knows the phrase get hot and stay hot. The Saints could not be any hotter right now. The offense is firing on all cylinders and the defense has gotten better each week. This is the most balanced we have been all year. We are playing complete games with tempo and command.
There are a few records at stake. Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s single season passing record Monday night, but Brady, Manning and Rogers are right behind him. It would be a shame to see Brees be the first to break the 27-year old record, only to claim the second or third place in the record books. Additionally, the record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass needs to be maintained. Thomas Moorstead is on the verge of breaking records for kickoff touchbacks and net punt yards. Darren Sproles is chasing a single season all-purpose yards record. Jimmy Graham is close to breaking a tight end receiving record for both receptions and yards.
In the Payton era, the Saints have had a dismal win record against the Panthers in December. Typically, we have rested our starters in those final games of the season and it is time for a decisive win.
We need to put the pressure on the niners to have to play to win – we don’t want them easing right into that number two seed. They need to earn it.
The Rams could beat the niners (we know that all too well!).
The Saints would feel lousy if they didn’t play 100% and let so many records slip away, only to be noted as obscure footnotes from time to time. The Saints would feel lousy if the Niners lost. The Saints would feel lousy if they didn’t “Finish Strong”.
We went into our last two post-seasons with some questions….maybe some answered and some not. This year we leave nothing on the table. The Saints march into the playoffs this year “full steam ahead”.