This year's schedule often hasn't been very forgiving to the Saints.
Four times, New Orleans has played teams that were coming off extended rest (a bye week or a Thursday night game) before they faced the Saints and twice, the Saints have faced opponents on short work weeks.
While New Orleans hasn't been especially successful when opponents have had extra rest – road victories over Chicago and Pittsburgh, and home losses against Cincinnati and Baltimore, with the four games happening in a five-week stretch – the Saints have been fine when their work week has been cut short.
The New Orleans Saints went to Charlotte, N.C., to play the Panthers on a Thursday night after they'd played Green Bay at home in New Orleans on Sunday night, and blitzed Carolina 28-10. And following a Monday night home loss to Baltimore, they traveled to Pittsburgh for a noon Sunday game against the Steelers, and posted a 35-32 victory.
Sunday's game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will present the Saints (6-8) with their third, and final, abbreviated-schedule challenge in their regular-season, home finale against the Falcons (5-9). But judging from the results the first two times, New Orleans isn't exactly loathsome of the task.
Last year, the Saints were 3-0 under short-week conditions and since 2009, New Orleans is 11-4 when preparation time has been condensed – a Thursday night game following a Sunday contest, or a Sunday game following a Monday night appearance – posting at least two victories in four of the six seasons.
The team appears to have found a formula that works.
"I think the one thing is that we value the recovery time after the game," Coach Sean Payton said. "We're careful not to come right out in pads again and (we) build up, if you will.
"That mental approach cannot change though, the focus in regards to the routine, the meetings. Being that it's a divisional opponent (Atlanta), there are some things that are unique and different from the last time we played them with regards to what they're doing scheme-wise. I would say the big thing is making sure there is that distance between the game you just played and the time you are out here going full go."
Saints players recognize that the coaching staff has been able to maximize the rest-recovery-practice routine.
"I think we've done a good job of understanding the challenges of it," quarterback Drew Brees said. "In many cases you're a day short or a few days short. Recovery is at a premium, really being very focused and diligent on the preparation. You're jamming a long work week into a shorter amount of time, so you just have to be really efficient.
"I think that Sean (Payton) has structured the schedule accordingly to prepare players for that. Hopefully it rings true again this week."
Said linebacker Curtis Lofton: "I think that Sean does a great job of taking care of us during the week when it's a short week, giving us the rest that we need.
"We put in our plays and we walk through them to where everybody feels comfortable, and if we don't feel comfortable with something, they take it out. It allows us to play fast and play with a lot of energy."
It's been a routine that the Saints have used to maximize their play, and one that they hope again will prove to be beneficial Sunday.