The New Orleans Saints take on the Carolina Panthers at the Caesars Superdome in Week 17 of the 2022 NFL season.
New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton, speaking with reporters one day after his team's 18-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers, said he hoped the team had put the bulk of its Covid-19 situation behind it and could prepare normally for Sunday's season finale at the Atlanta Falcons.
The Saints are 8-8 and a win over Atlanta (7-9) coupled with a San Francisco 49ers loss to the Los Angeles Rams puts the Saints in the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season. If the Saints make it, they would play the Rams (12-4), who will secure the No. 2 seed if they beat the 49ers (9-7) on Sunday. Both games are at 3:25 p.m. and will be broadcast by Fox.
"I don't know that we're out it," Payton said Monday when asked about the team's Covid-19 situation. "We're getting guys back. ...Hopefully the bulk of it is behind us."
The Saints will return the practice field at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center on Wednesday and practice through Saturday before leaving for Atlanta.
Payton said Sunday's win was "important" and sets up a bigger must win game against the rival Falcons, who are led by first-year Coach Arthur Smith and General Manager Terry Fontenot, a longtime member of the Saints' front office.
The Saints are entering the regular-season finale winners of three of their past four games, the lone exception being last Monday night's loss to the Miami Dolphins when the team had 22 players on the Covid-19 list. New Orleans got the majority of players back for the Panthers game but still were missing four of its five starting linemen because of Covid-19 or injury. That made the run game hard against Carolina but Payton said the 2-minute drill at the end of the first half, which ended with one of Brett Maher's four field goals, "was important" and that the team made a few big plays when needed, especially on the team's lone touchdown drive.
NO PREGAME CHANT: Payton said the lack of the traditional pregame chant at the Caesars Superdome was not planned. "More than anything it was an oversight. I'll blame the captains," he said in a joking manner.