Forget the NFC South Division title, the No. 2 seed, the bye week and extra rest that would go along with being one of the top two playoff seeds.
The New Orleans Saints no longer can control any of that.
But entering the regular-season finale Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, there still is one thing that the Saints (10-5) can control when they take on Tampa Bay (4-11).
Win, and they’re in.
“You can cut this thing up a bunch of different ways and try to play all these scenarios,” safety
“We’re going to have to get this win to accomplish anything that we want to. It’s a big week for us, and obviously it’s coming off a disappointing loss. But we still have everything in front of us and that’s all we can really focus on.”
Said Coach Sean Payton: “The main thing is, there’ll be a lot of different scenarios. We’re approaching this like a playoff game itself. There’s a handful of things that we can’t control, but we can control this week. I think the key for us is to handle the holiday week, put together a good plan and a good set of practices and put our focus into playing our best football Sunday.
“We control one thing. We know if we’re able to go out and play well and win, we’re guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. Our game was flexed to 3:30 p.m., so I don’t want to spend those two hours prior to the game with the television sets going and all the other potential distractions that can take place with a game that’s being played prior to ours. I think it’s a pretty clear scenario for a lot of teams this weekend.”
The Saints are among those who have clarity.
That doesn’t mean other scenarios don’t exist, including the most attractive outlook for New Orleans. The Saints can win the NFC South and a first-round bye with a win over Tampa Bay and a Carolina loss to the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday.
Other scenarios in which the Saints will make the playoffs, but as a wild-card team, include: a Saints win and a Carolina win; a Saints tie and a San Francisco loss or tie this week; a Saints tie and an Arizona loss or tie; an Arizona loss; or two San Francisco losses (the 49ers play later on "Monday Night Football," then next Sunday).
But the Saints have no sway, or minimal influence, in those cases.
“We had really good opportunities the last two weeks (in road games against St. Louis and Carolina), we didn’t take advantage of those opportunities and now it’s a win-or-go-home type scenario for us,” receiver
“I don’t know that we’re going to put any extra pressure or anything or try to screen anything out. It’s our last game and we’re playing at home. If guys aren’t going to be ready to play then we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs anyway.
“We have to take care of business this week and it should be OK. Once we’re in, we still have a chance. It doesn’t matter where we have to go to play or who we have to play, getting in is our first goal this week.”
And there’s only one way to guarantee they’re in.
“I don’t think we have time to dwell on it because we still have our goals,” Jenkins said of Sunday’s 17-13 loss to the Panthers. “It might be a rougher road, we still don’t know what’s ahead of us, but we do know if we win this week – and we must win this week – we get into the tournament, (and) that’s all that matters.
“That’s what we work for in OTAs, in training camp and all that, to get into the tournament. So we don’t have time to lick our wounds and feel bad and think that we’re going to show up on Sunday and just automatically get a win.”