The New Orleans Saints wrap up their 2018 regular season this Sunday with a home game against an NFC South rival, the Carolina Panthers. The 13-2 Saints essentially have nothing to play for, having already clinched not only the division title, but home field advantage through the playoffs. The expectation is that even with a first round bye, coach Sean Payton will choose to sit many of his starters and top end players for an extra week of rest. That strategy will be especially important for players like left tackle Terron Armstead, who is nursing a pectoral injury, along with some other members of a banged up offensive line. However, there are a handful of Saints players who are on the verge of historical or meaningful achievements. Health and fresh legs are most important to New Orleans, but here are a few players who are on the verge of milestones that we might see in the lineup on Sunday, even if only for a short time.
Brees, one of the leading candidates to finally get the league M.V.P. award that he's been overlooked for his whole career, is about to shatter his own NFL single season record for completion percentage. Brees currently has 3,992 passing yards this season, just 8 yards shy of extending his own league record of consecutive 4,000 yard passing seasons to thirteen. Brees has missed just two starts during his New Orleans career, one in this exact sort of situation in 2009, and has never failed to break the 4,000 yard barrier in his 13 years as a Saint. It seems likely that he could at least start the game and play at least a drive to extend his impressive yardage streak.
Thomas leads the NFL with a single season team record 120 receptions, a seven catch lead over Philadelphia's Zach Ertz. Thomas already sits at the top of the team's record book in numerous categories in just his third professional season, and now has his sights set on another. Thomas' 1,376 receiving yards puts him just 24 short of the single season franchise record of 1,399 yards set by Joe Horn in 2004. As is the case with Brees, it doesn't seem likely that a healthy Thomas will sit out this game completely, not when he's so close to a prestigious achievement.
Kamara leads the Saints with 883 rushing yards, sitting 117 away from his first career 1,000 yard rushing season, a milestone that only 7 other backs in team history have accomplished. He also has 14 rushing scores, a single season franchise record, and 18 total offensive touchdowns, trailing the Rams Todd Gurley by 3 scores for the league lead in each category. Kamara's 18 offensive touchdowns are also tied for the single season franchise record with Dalton Hilliard, who set the mark during the 1989 season. Kamara has gotten 275 offensive touches this season, and has not looked quite as dynamic at times down the stretch. While much of that is due to the extreme amount of attention he receives from opposing defenses, having a fresh legged Kamara for the playoffs will be vital for offensive success. He may play a series or two, and perhaps get a goal line opportunity to move past Hilliard, but it's not likely that Kamara will see much playing time in this one.
Ingram, who passed Deuce McAllister as the Saints all-time rushing touchdown leader with his 50th score on the ground last week, now sits on the cusp of another hallowed team mark. With 118 rushing yards, Ingram will pass McAllister's career franchise record of 6,096 rushing yards. Both players accumulated their rushing totals by their eighth seasons, but with Ingram facing unrestricted free agency at the end of the year, this may be his final opportunity to etch his name at the top of the New Orleans record book in this category. Having Ingram healthy for the playoffs is the team's top priority with him, but with Kamara unlikely to see many snaps, we could see Ingram get the carries to pass McAllister's record if he has some rushing success early in the game.
Jordan leads the team with 12 sacks, the fourth time in his eight year career that he has double digit quarterback takedowns. Jordan is just one sack away from equaling his career high of 13 sacks, set last year. He has started 126 of a possible 127 games during his career, missing just one game during his rookie year. A healthy Jordan will probably get the start, with a chance to get his career high in sacks against a struggling Panthers line within the first couple of drives before he takes a seat with a number of other team stars.
The Saints acquired the 26-yr. old Bridgewater late this summer, surrendering a 2019 3rd round draft choice to fortify their backup quarterback spot. The former 2014 Vikings 1st round draft pick has appeared in a few games, throwing one pass in mop-up duty. Bridgewater has been dubbed as a possible replacement for Drew Brees whenever he decides to retire, but will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. While life after Brees is not even close to a top priority for Payton and the Saints front office, they are still faced with a decision on Bridgewater this offseason. Even if Brees does get the start on Sunday, Bridgewater will almost certainly receive a good bit of playing time to showcase his ability. Whether it's an audition for a longterm contract with New Orleans, to bolster his value as a free agent, or perhaps even as a sign-and-trade candidate remains to be seen, but we should expect to see Teddy Bridgewater take the bulk of the Saints offensive snaps this Sunday.
The Saints 13 wins this season is tied for the franchise record, equaling the total from the 2009 and 2011 squads. Coincidentally, both of those teams played the Carolina Panthers to end their regular season with little left to play for heading into the playoffs, as did Payton's 10-6 2006 team that had also had their postseason seeding secured. Brees, along with the majority of the starters, played just a series or two during the '06 finale, and many (including Brees) did not play at all in the final game of 2009. The Panthers, who are down to their 3rd string quarterback after shelving Cam Newton and losing Taylor Heinicke to injury, have lost 7 straight games after a 6-2 start. Payton and the Saints would surely love to notch a team record 14th victory against a bitter rival, but remember that Carolina is a rugged and physical team, and Saints-Panthers matchups always take a physical toll on each side.
With the exception of a few players, like Armstead, who have been a bit banged up and likely won't play at all, this will probably be treated like a preseason game in regards to playing time. Brees, Kamara, Thomas, Jordan, and a few other stars could still get the start, but will come out of the game after a series or two. That would mean that the outcome of this game, and a franchise record 14th win, will come down to "Teddy Time" and a number of the young New Orleans reserves as they try and showcase the depth this team as they head into the postseason.
Which mark is most likely to be reached by these Saints players on Sunday?
This poll is closed
Brees gets 4,000 yards passing
Thomas breaks the team's single season mark for receiving yards
Kamara breaks 1,000 yards rushing
Kamara breaks the team record for offensive touchdowns
Ingram becomes the Saints all-time leading rusher
None of these will happen
All of these will happen