The New Orleans Saints still have things to accomplish in the final game of the regular season on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
The Saints are on the verge of dominating the NFC South in an unprecedented fashion when they visit Charlotte, N.C.
That’s just part of the objective.
“I just want to be playing our best football,” New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said. “I want to be as sharp as we possibly can, understanding that obviously we’re still missing a few guys that hopefully we’ll have when we get to the playoffs.”
The Saints (11-4) can clinch the overall No. 1 seed in the NFC and a subsequent first-weekend bye in the playoffs if they win at Carolina (5-10) along with a Seattle (11-4) victory at San Francisco (6-9) and a loss by Green Bay (12-3) at Chicago (8-7).
“We just have to keep playing our game,” Saints offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said. “… The stakes are high right now.”
Already, New Orleans has secured its fourth straight NFC South title. A victory against the Panthers would mean the Saints complete a six-game sweep of the other NFC South teams, which is something no team in the division has ever accomplished.
“You understand how hard it is to win the division,” Brees said. “Week-in and week-out, there are so many battles. … That would be a great accomplishment. At the end of the day, it’s just getting another win, which just better positions ourselves for the playoffs.”
Carolina won for just the second time in a 10-game span with last weekend’s conquering of Washington. Yet the Panthers are accustomed to taking on first-place teams as this will mark their fifth game in a nine-game stretch against a divisional leader.
With a first-year staff under new coach Matt Rhule, the Panthers are trying to set a foundation that will be beneficial in the future.
“For us to have this new staff, new players, it’s about building each and every week,” Carolina safety Tre Boston said. “I told y’all a few weeks back: When that wall on the house is just one wall, everybody is going to say stuff about it, but as we build this house and make it a home, we’re going to be one to reckon with.”
The Panthers, who posted a November shutout of the Detroit Lions, held Washington without a touchdown until the last two minutes.
“A lot of points this season, we were really searching to find our identity and find out what we do and what we have — and that’s what we’re doing,” Carolina cornerback Donte Jackson said. “We were in a search trying to find our identity, but we found it.”
The Saints aim to build on their reputation and be in position for a long playoff run.
“Understand exactly what wins football games and let’s make sure we’re doing all those things,” said Brees, who pointed out it’s important for the offense to retain timing and rhythm.
Saints running back Alvin Kamara’s NFL record-matching six-touchdown performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas night showed what the team is capable of doing with its talent-laden offense.
“Over time,” Brees said, “it wears defenses down.”
Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has another opportunity to face New Orleans. Last year with the Saints, he filled in for an injured Brees during a midseason stretch.
This is the final chance for Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn to make a case for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“It has been my goal to finish the season strong,” said Chinn, who has 110 tackles, five passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and a sack to go along with scoring two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey won’t play in the finale. He appeared in just three games this season. Running back Mike Davis (ankle) and receiver Robby Anderson (groin) also sat out Wednesday’s practice.
The Saints defeated the Panthers 27-24 on Oct. 25, with the outcome not decided until a late-game field-goal attempt from 65 yards out was just short for Carolina’s Joey Slye.
New Orleans has defeated the Panthers in the last three meetings and in seven of the teams’ past eight games.
Attendance will be limited to 1,500, with only family and friends of team members permitted entry, because of increased concerns in the Charlotte area regarding the coronavirus pandemic. This is a change from most of the season, when more than 5,000 fans were allowed to purchase tickets for Carolina home games.
–Field Level Media