I don't want to sound overly dramatic, but this Sunday's Week 4 matchup between the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers might be one of the most important regular season games of the last few years.
The Saints enter the game winless at 0-3 and in last place in the NFC South. The Atlanta Falcons are first in the NFC South, with a record of 2-1 (their loss coming against the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers). The Bucs and Carolina Panthers are tied for second in the NFC South, each at 1-2, with the Panthers playing the first place Falcons, and the Bucs playing the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos.
The Broncos will be easily the favorite to win their game, with the likely outcome leaving the Bucs with a record of 1-3 after Week 4. That then leaves the Panthers and Falcons game. If the Falcons win, they'll still be atop the division at 3-1, with the Panthers also tied with the Bucs at 1-3. If the Panthers win, the Panthers and Falcons will be tied atop the division at 2-2.
That means, regardless of who wins between the Panthers and Falcons, and assuming the Bucs lose to the Broncos, the Saints are in a position to technically be tied for second place in the NFC South with a win in Week 4. At 1-3, the Saints will be tied the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Either the Panthers will be also be at 1-3 with the Falcons in sole possession of first place, or both the Panthers and Falcons will be tied in first at 2-2 each. The Saints will either be only one or two games out of first place.
If the Saints were to lose and drop to 0-4, and with a Falcons win, the Saints could potentially be a full three games out of first place in the division, making their postseason dreams highly unlikely. If the Saints are able to find themselves in second place in the NFC South, only one game out of first, the Saints will still be in control of their destiny and the playoffs are not out of the question.
All of that is to say that this game could determine the future of the Saints season. A win, and the focus remains the postseason this year. A loss, and the Saints should consider embracing a losing season for a higher draft pick as their chances of making it to the playoffs are slim. Both of those potential outcomes then have even deeper implications on not just this year, but next season and future seasons to come.
The Saints with an early Week 5 Bye is a surprise blessing. If the Saints can win against the Chargers, they'll have an extra week to get healthy and focus on their Week 6 matchup with the Carolina Panthers. If the Saints lose, they'll have a week for the organization to adjust their state of mind and prepare for a full-on rebuild season.