Big match in messy NFC South
Back in 2010, New Orleans went 11-5 and Seattle was 7-9. But the Saints were a wild card for the playoffs and the Seahawks won their division.
So off to the Great Northwest the Saints traipsed, where they were dismissed from the postseason by the Seahawks.
Now, it's New Orleans - or any team from the struggling NFC South - that could wind up benefiting from the NFL's setup that rewards all division winners.
For Thursday night's matchup with Carolina, the Saints (No. 18 in AP Pro32), are 2 1-2-point favorites over the Panthers (No. 21) in this, uh, battle for NFC South supremacy.
Carolina has played a difficult schedule that includes losses to Seattle, Green Bay, Baltimore and Pittsburgh and a tie with Cincinnati. The Panthers (3-4-1) lead the sector by percentage points over New Orleans (3-4), which has won every home game and lost all the road contests. With Atlanta (2-6) and Tampa Bay (1-6) not in the mix, the division looks like a two-team crawl to Week 17.
"You know, winning your division is going to get you a home game in the playoffs," Saints tackle Zach Strief said.
"Certainly there's all sorts of goals and there's big picture, small picture and I think what we've tried to do is really focus on the smallest picture, and that's our own team getting better," Saints coach Sean Payton added. "As much is said and written week to week about how the league's doing, who's playing well, who's not, if you can really focus on how to improve yourself, I think that handles itself."
Can the Saints handle a huge intradivision road challenge? We think so, barely.