At 10-3, the Saints do still trail the 11-2 Seattle Seahawks for the best record in the NFC, but if the Black and Gold can lock up the second seed, it would give them a particularly significant edge for a post-season run.
The Saints have never won a road playoff game; they’ve always struggled with the challenge of navigating the post season away from New Orleans.
“A couple of years ago in 2010, we were 11-5 and found ourselves as the five seed going to play at 7-9 Seattle,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “Atlanta was 13-3 and won our division. That’s why it is important to win the division. You want to secure that first-round bye if you can. Certainly, that is on our list of goals. We just need to focus on winning the division championship.”
The Saints continue that quest on the road for the next two weeks, facing the St.Louis Rams in the Edward Jones Dome, then heading to Carolina for an outdoor rematch with the Panthers, who likely have a score they’d like to settle.
At least the weekly practice schedule will be a normal one, after two weeks of enduring changes due to primetime games and travel delays.
“I think our players look forward to it,” Payton said. “I know we do from a preparation standpoint. Today we will spend a good majority of the day on St. Louis, as well as all day tomorrow. We’ll start back Wednesday with a good practice. Getting back on that schedule is helpful for them, especially this late in the season.”
The Rams may now be officially out of playoff contention at 5-8, but they have matched up against the Saints well in recent years. If history is any indication, the Saints can’t afford to let off the gas.
“They’re an extremely tough team inside that Dome,” Brees said. “The times that we’ve had to travel there in 2009 and 2011: ’09 we barely squeaked out of there with a win, and they were a winless team at that point. In ’11, they beat the brakes off us, and we were a 13-3 team that year. We understand the challenge of going there. We know they probably view us as having difficulty playing there. So we’re going to need our best week of preparation and best performance on Sunday to get the win there.”
The Saints must guard against a trap game this week, which may be easier said than done, given the national spotlight they were under for the past 2 weeks and that NFC South rematch looming against the Panthers next week.