There have been seasons when the work that the New Orleans Saints had done entering Week 17 of the regular season was enough to have earned the team a first-round bye, and others when the work submitted had been enough to earn a playoff berth, but not an off week.
This year, entering the regular-season finale Sunday against Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., the Saints (11-4) aren't exactly sure where they stand as a playoff seed.
There remains the possibility that New Orleans can earn the top seed and accompanying bye week. If the Saints and Seahawks win Sunday and Green Bay loses, New Orleans wins the tiebreak by virtue of having a better conference record.
Or, there's the possibility of being the No. 2 or 3 seed, and playing a home playoff game, but not having the rest week.
The only concrete fact is that the Saints are in the playoffs as NFC South Division champions and will play at least one postseason game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But given that there still is an avenue to the top seed, New Orleans already has been in playoff mode for weeks.
"I think you try to take that approach," quarterback Drew Brees said. "You absolutely try to take that approach. There's so many divisional games that there's just still so many things that can happen, right?
"Obviously, we're in a position where we've secured the division, we've won the division, and yet there's still so much out there in regards to playoff scenarios. So we want to best position ourselves for the tournament, and we also want to be playing our best football going into it. We're constantly thinking about how we can improve."
Seeding-wise, the only way to improve is with a win over the Panthers (5-10). Another "playoff" game before the playoffs begin.
"We've had the mind-set that we've been in the playoffs for the last two weeks," linebacker Demario Davis said. "That's just our mentality. You don't know what's going to happen across the league, so just win your game and let the rest take care of itself. That's what you have to do in the playoffs."
Regardless of where the seed falls, Brees said it's most important to be playing at a high level.
"In my opinion, I just want to be playing our best football," he said. "I want to be as sharp as we possibly can, understanding that we're still missing a few guys that hopefully we'll have when we get to the playoffs. But still, be as sharp and efficient as we possibly can.
"Understand exactly what wins football games, and let's make sure that we're doing all those things, and we're putting ourselves in the best position to succeed every time we step on the field. Because I think then there's a confidence that comes with that, there's an edge that comes with that.
"Listen, everybody who makes it into the tournament, at the end is a team who has found ways to win in order to put themselves in position to be a playoff team. Once you get into the playoffs, you're playing against teams that know how to win, that have found different ways to win. So each one of those games becomes that much more important when it comes to the finer details of winning those games."