After beating their divisional rivals earlier in the season on a nailbitter that came down to the final play of the game, the Saints will once again face the Buccaneers, this time in the Mercedes Superdome. The Saints have all but kissed their season goodbye at 5-8 so this will count as a glorified preseason game for them, while the Bucs are clinging on to unlikely playoff hopes at 6-7. From a must win standpoint, the Bucs need this one much worse. At this point we're left jockeying for draft position while evaluating talent for next year. Here's the five things I'm looking for in this game:
1. Does Drew Brees rebound from this awful funk he's in?
Brees has been downright awful the last three weeks, with 4 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. It would be nice to see him snap out of this before the end of the season. With the pressure of playoff hopes now gone, maybe he can relax and stop trying to be a hero on every play. I'd like to see him step up, play well and take care of the football. If he can get through the entire game without an interception I would be elated.
2. How is the safety play without Malcolm Jenkins?
The safety play this season with both Jenkins and Harper has been mediocre at best. By now we all know what those two give us, and frankly I just don't think it's good enough on a consistent basis. As the season has progressed I've become a huge fan of both Isa Abdul-Quddus and Rafael Bush. Both are very good special teamers, and they're young developing prospects that have shown good instincts and ball skills in limited playing time at safety. I really want to take these last three weeks to watch Abdul-Quddus and Rafael Bush in defensive sets, because I believe with seasoning they could represent upgrades and there is no better time to find out. Jenkins is injured and listed as out for this game, so Abdul-Quddus will get a start in his place and most likely play the duration. The Saints have moved Harper into linebacker in nickel situations at times, bringing a 3rd safety into action, so Bush will get some looks in those sets too.
3. Time for Akiem Hicks to join the party.
Sedrick Ellis is in the final year of his deal and I would be very surprised if he's invited back. I fully expect him to move on and I fully expect Akiem Hicks to take his spot and become a full time starter for the Saints next year. Based on that, why wait? The season is over, Ellis is likely a goner, so let's throw Hicks in there now and get him acclimated to higher reps and allow him to get into the flow of the game more. I'm hoping for increased snaps for a slew of players that need to be given a chance, but none more than Hicks. I think he's come out with flying colors in most of the opportunities he's been give and it's time to throw him into the fire full bore.
4. Do we root to win or lose?
I'm very torn on how to approach this game, because frankly it's unfamiliar territory. The Saints haven't been pretty much eliminated from postseason hopes with 3 weeks left in the season in 7 years. And in the Haslett/Ditka years, some seasons were so bad that you knew the draft pick was going to be pretty good so you still felt like rooting for a win because it was so unlikely anyway. But this feels different because if the Saints win out they could draft as low as 17 or so, and if they lose out they could be as high at #5. So do we root for a win against a divisional rival, or do we root to lose every game and hope for a better draft pick, knowing that a win still gives us no chance at the playoffs? How will the fans in the Dome feel? I feel conflicted, but in the end I just don't think I can bring myself to root against the Saints. Unfortunately, even if they do win there will be a bittersweet feeling of "why couldn't they put a game like this together in the last three weeks".
5. Do the Saints play with purpose, or do they quit?
At the end of the Giants game, I saw some players quitting. That, to me, is unacceptable, and I know Sean Payton won't stand for it. These guys are professionals, and regardless of the score or their record they need to go out there and play hard. I'll keep an eye on players that seem to be mailing it in because those are the guys we won't want back next year.