To Rest the Starters, or Not to Rest the Starters, That is the Question

In life, some things are considered impossible; others are considered improbable.  When referring to the Saints’ chances of becoming the number two seed in the NFC, many people aren’t sure exactly how to describe the team’s hopes.  Around the NFL, a handful of teams will be fighting for home-field advantage and playoff births alike.  Luckily for the “Who Dat Nation,” the equation heading into Week 17 is fairly simple.  The Black and Gold already have a postseason spot waiting for them in January.  The concern, though, lies in the squad’s final seeding at the conclusion of the 2011 NFL regular season. 

With the San Francisco 49ers currently holding the number two seed, the Saints would likely have to go on the road if the squad were to advance into the NFC Championship Game.  Being on the road has been the equivalent of being on a roller coaster for New Orleans in 2011; at times, the team has looked solid.  However, all three of the team’s losses have come away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, leaving a tad bit of doubt in the squad’s ability to achieve victory in Lambeau Field or Candlestick Park later on in the playoffs.

Before we dive into the Saints’ weekend regular season finale against the division rival Carolina Panthers, we must first be reminded of the Black and Gold’s playoff scenario.  The equation is an easy one to remember:  if the Saints win and the 49ers fall to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, then the Saints become the number two seed in the NFC and are granted home field advantage (and a first round bye) in all playoff contests not involving Green Bay.  As I pointed out in a past article (“For the Saints, the Number Two Seed in the NFC may be Out of Reach”), New Orleans plays significantly better under the air-conditioning of the Dome.  So much so, that I consider them to be the best team in the NFC when playing at home (That Monday night game against the Atlanta Falcons was all the proof I needed to back up that statement.). 

Now the question remains:  “Is there any chance that the Saints grab that first round bye?”

My answer:  “Probably not.”  I don’t want to call it impossible, because it is not.  In a miracle situation, the Rams will pull off one of the better upsets in the 2011 campaign (toppling their previous “upset of the year” against the Saints back in Week Eight) by knocking off the three-loss 49ers, and New Orleans will cruise into the second seed with a big win over the third place Panthers.  Trust me, I believe in miracles, but it’s hard for me to see this wish coming true to begin the new year. 

So now another question makes itself apparent.  With the chances of getting the number two seed being slim in Week 17, do you rest your starters so that they can head into the playoffs with two weeks of rest? 

What makes the situation interesting is the fact that the two important contests for the Saints occur at the same time on Sunday.  The 49ers’ kickoff, like the Saints’ start time, is for 1:00 ET, meaning that head coach Sean Payton will have a hefty decision to make.  Sure, he could give his starters an extra week of rest, but at what cost?  Honestly, the best plan for the Saints may simply be to take peeks at the scoreboard in the Dome.  As the game progresses on, keep the starters in until it looks as though San Francisco will come away with the victory (The third quarter sounds about right.), then give backup QB Chase Daniel some reps and allow him to earn his paycheck.  There’s no point in resting the starters beginning at kickoff; there is simply too much on the line to do so. 

To begin, Tom Brady is creeping up on the new single-season passing record (currently held by Drew Brees), and it is hard to imagine Brees wanting to lose that record in a week’s time.  After two quarters of solid play, that record will officially be secure.  Secondly, I can only imagine how many faces will be stinging if the 49ers leave St. Louis with a loss while the Saints suffered a “L” of their own due to the fact that they were resting their starters. 

The simple fact of the matter is this:  this week is as important, if not more important, for the Saints than any previous week, and the Black and Gold shouldn’t decide to simply “mail it in” due to the lack of competition that the 49ers have to face in Missouri.

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