<span>The New Orleans Saints, fresh off a 29-25 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, have quickly put that game in the rear-view mirror and instead immediately turned their attentions to the Chicago Bears.
With 11 teams in the NFC posting records of .500 or better, the jockeying for a postseason berth is as heated and competitive as ever as the vying teams hit the homestretch. However, the Saints' attention isn't focused on the hypothetical scenarios, rather the collective thoughts are instead on the Bears and Thursday night's contest.
The tests will come in a myriad of different formations this week, as the teams have precious little time to prepare for the game and are still fighting through the general aches and pains of Sunday's game, but knowing they need to prepare and practice the different phases of their game plan.
"It's very challenging," fullback Mike Karney said. "It will be challenging for the Chicago Bears, too. You have to intensify what you do in a full week into a couple of days. So get in here and get your lift in, get in the hot and cold tubs, get your treatment. You're going to have to be doing double to intensify and do overtime."
With the short layover between Sunday's game and Thursday's tilt, Head Coach Payton said his team would go through more walkthrough-oriented couple of practices this week, which will allow the players to remain as fresh as humanly possible this late in the season.
"I think the key now is to maybe back off some of the physical work," the third-year head coach said. "I think it becomes a little bit more mental at this point in the season and just being mindful of keeping these guys fresh, keeping them rested and ready to go and deal with a good team."
Much has already been made of the harsh weather conditions that team is likely to encounter on the shores of Lake Michigan, but the Saints can do little to control the frigid temperatures. However it does make for an interesting subplot to a game that hardly needs any extra story lines.
Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who played four seasons in the northeast as a member of the New York Jets, said the team can hardly let the talk of the weather be a deciding factor in the key game.
"If you decide to sit there and worry about the cold all week, you go in there knowing it's going to be cold and use that as an excuse, that's a losing mentality," Vilma said.
Clearly the Bears are going to make not-so subtle comments this week aimed at reminding the Saints about the weather. In fact Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs said last week, "Drew Brees has been in San Diego and in New Orleans in a dome. So when he comes out here, and he's got his hand-warmer fanny pack, it's a whole different ballgame. He's freezing; his blood is real thin."
Apparently Briggs is unaware that Brees, who played his college football at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, has played in more than his fair share of cold weather games during his illustrious career and certainly understands how to prepare for the less than balmy conditions he will face.
Head Coach Sean Payton said that the team would be prepared for the game and that the team's equipment staff, headed by Dan "Chief" Simmons, will have the team properly outfitted. "I think Drew and a lot of these players understand the importance of keeping their fingers warm and all the specifics that go into preparing to play in cold weather," Payton said.
Karney summed up what a whirlwind season it has already been for the Saints, but admitted his is enjoying every second of it. "That's been the story of this year," Karney said. "On the road a bunch, going to a whole other country, hurricanes, two games in three or four days. It's crazy, but I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else right now. This is fun no matter what."