Panthers @ Saints: Start 'Em or Rest 'Em?

What do these guys have in mind for the Panthers' game on Sunday? Hopefully something that will have us all smiles, too. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

OK CSCers, it is now 24 hours and some change until the Saints will take the field against the Carolina Panthers for the final regular season game of 2011 (technically, it's the first game of 2012, but who around here ever gets caught up in semantics?).

As I awoke today, I found myself still wondering what the Saints should do about playing their starters in this game, and how long they should stay in, as well.

Make the jump to review what we know and then speculate on this matter with me...

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It's been a whirlwind few days since the Saints beat Atlanta on Monday night and Drew Breeeeeees!!! set the new single-season passing yardage mark, so let's just carefully walk ourselves through the sequence.

By Wednesday morning, Dave was already dealing with the question of Drew Brees's status for the game, and went on the record in support of him playing on Sunday to help stay ahead of Tom Brady, who is only 190 yards behind Brees in passing yards for 2011.

Then, based on Sean Payton's press conference later that day, Mike Triplett reported that the Saints would be playing to win on Sunday:

"We're going full speed ahead," said Payton, who said he doesn't even plan to pay attention to the score of the San Francisco 49ers-St. Louis Rams game, which will be played at the same time...

...Payton said he decided to play his starters this week, both because of that shot at the No. 2 seed and because he feels like his team is well-rested and has a lot of momentum going during its current seven-game win streak.

"We're playing some of our best football here the last few weeks," Payton said. "There's some value to that."


Nothing much changed on Thursday, as folks reported on Wednesday's statements, and while Drew Brees's Wednesday press conference didn't offer any information contradictory to Payton's, he did discuss how the situation in 2011 is different from that in 2010:

There's a lot of records out there we could potentially set, break. I think our mindset above and beyond that is how do we put ourselves in the best position to play and win in the playoffs and when you look at last year, you could say this situation is somewhat similar to last year where going into week 16 if we beat Tampa and Atlanta loses, we win the division and get the one seed. This time around, we're locked into the three unless we win, San Fran loses then we get the two, so that's a significant jump. That's the difference between a first round bye or not...

...Last year we felt we were a little banged up, should rest up, limited some guys. I think we all found ourselves scoreboard watching a little in regards to that other game, therefore I feel like not that we took a step back in that game. We just didn't progress and I feel like our mindset is that we want to continue to progress and continue to get better, because I think there are things that serve you well in this game if you can continue to stay in the rise as you head into the playoffs, whether they're confidence builders or situations that come up that you fight through.

Payton addressed the question from some different angles in Friday's press conference, first:

Does a potential upcoming playoff game next week affect your decision on whether you play a player in this week's game?
"I think it would have to be very simple: does he help the team in playing well enough to win a game? If the answer is no, if it's something that is potentially not full speed and it could hurt the team, then you can't play them. If the answer is yes, that would be a lot like week eight or week nine. It happened last week where Lance (Moore) as recovering and it seemed like he was doing well and then on the third catch all of a sudden he pulled up and now you're at 45 (players) on game day. You're always trying to gauge where that player is and is he healthy enough to help us. If the answer is yes, then that's one thing. If it's no, sometimes that's a difficult decision."

Then...

Was there any thought to not put the scores of the 49ers-Rams game this weekend on the scoreboard in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome?

"Honestly there are so many thoughts that come ahead of that, but I understand the question. I think we're treating it like we would (any game). This is a chance for us to win a 13th game, which has really been done once in this organization's history. We just got done talking at the end of practice, we feel like we've been playing good football and yet there are areas that we feel like we can improve on. We feel like that could help us heading into the postseason. We want to finish strong and we want to play well. I think that is separate entirely from what happens with any of the other games. It's always this last week where there are a handful of scenarios. I think maybe it's a little clearer in the NFC because it really just comes down to one game with either the Giants or Cowboys winning, but other than that the field is set. I think we're going to really pay closer attention to how we're doing rather than how anyone else is doing."

...and one more try to see if he'll say anything different:

Does the possibility of Drew Brees' single-season passing yardage record come into consideration at all with playing him?

"Not really. There are a lot of statistical little things that could be achieved or not achieved in this game, but not really. I think the focus is playing our best game against a team that we feel like is playing very well and is very hot and very difficult to defend. They're a team that's gotten better and better certainly since we played them last, which seems like such a long time ago. I think our focus is really on what we need to do to play our best football game and play these guys and finish the season on the right note."

OK, now you've got the official word(s) from Sean Payton and Drew Brees on the matter, as well as a tiny bit of analysis/assessment/projecting from Dave and Mike Triplett.

Sean Payton only tells the media what he wants them to know, so there's good reason to suspect he may be puffing out a smoke screen for strategic advantage.

And now the question is, "What in the wide, wide, world of sports are they really and actually going to do on Sunday against the Panthers?"

Please vote in the poll and then discuss your rationale in the comment section below. You can also explore the whole "shades of meaning" area by sharing what you THINK they will do and what they really SHOULD do (if there's a difference)...

Let's do this!

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