Saints-Bears Preview

The New Orleans Saints sport the same lackluster record as the Chicago Bears but have much more left to play for.

The Saints could boost their hopes in the NFC South by bouncing back from a lopsided defeat in Monday night's visit to a Bears team that's been eliminated from playoff contention.

New Orleans (5-8) stayed tied for the division lead even after a 41-10 home loss to Carolina last Sunday because co-leader Atlanta couldn't rally past Green Bay in a 43-37 defeat Monday. The Falcons currently hold the tiebreaker because they won the only meeting this season and have a 4-0 division record to the Saints' 2-2 mark.

New Orleans, however, faces Atlanta next weekend at home. Carolina remains in contention at 4-8-1.

The NFC South winner is guaranteed to become the fifth division champion with a non-winning record after a 16-game season. It could also become the second division winner with a losing record, joining the 2010 Seattle Seahawks, or the first with at least 10 losses.

"The only reason we're sitting here still with that small sliver of hope is just because the way the division has unfolded this year," coach Sean Payton said.

Oddly enough, maybe heading out of town could help get his team on track. The Saints' four-game home losing streak is the longest of the Payton era, but they've won their last two road games at Carolina and Pittsburgh.

Payton hinted Monday that he could make some changes after his team's most lopsided defeat since 2007 and its fourth in five games. The Saints cut beleaguered receiver Joe Morgan on Tuesday and are reportedly benching safety Kenny Vaccaro.

The Saints have given up at least 27 points in five straight games and allowed an average of 472.3 yards in the past four. They're yielding the second-most yards per game this season at 398.7, just ahead of Atlanta's 410.8.

"Guys understand, hey, this is serious. It's their profession. It's our profession. It's going to be our job and the leaders of this team to lead. This is exactly when you find out who your guys are," Payton said. "If it's not happening ... then we're going to look at other options."

New Orleans will get to face another struggling defense Monday night. Chicago (5-8) has allowed a league-worst 29.1 points per game and an average of 377.8 total yards.

The Bears, set to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year, have allowed a combined 75 points in back-to-back losses after last Thursday's 41-28 defeat to Dallas.

Because of that performance, Chicago will reportedly let go of defensive coordinator Mel Tucker at the end of the season. There are also rumors that the franchise is regretting the sizable contract it gave turnover-prone quarterback Jay Cutler this past offseason.

Cutler has a league high-tying six fumbles and the second-most interceptions (15) since signing his seven-year, $126.7 million deal that includes $54 million guaranteed. Coach Marc Trestman said he plans on keeping him as the starter despite the Bears' elimination.

"Jay and I talk daily. I think he has a very good understanding of how we feel about him. There's a lot of noise out there. We're all aware of that," Trestman said. "All we're trying to do here is to get our football team in a position that we can be better on Monday night.

"The focus inside this building is exactly that and has always been exactly that week to week. That's all that's been important to all of us here."

Cutler led the Bears to only seven points through 40 minutes against the visiting Saints when these teams met last season, and Chicago couldn't overcome a 16-point deficit in a 26-18 loss.

The Bears have rushed for a combined 48 yards in their past two games but are facing a New Orleans run defense which has surrendered an average of 183.8 during the team's 1-4 slump.

Drew Brees has led the Saints to wins in the teams' last two meetings with five TD passes and no interceptions, completing 76.4 percent of his passes for 558 yards. He had season lows for yards (235) and completion percentage (59.2) in the loss to Carolina.

It's uncertain if Bears kicker Robbie Gould's injured right quad will keep him out of a second straight game. Chicago lost star receiver Brandon Marshall for the season because of rib and lung injuries suffered against the Cowboys.

The Bears placed starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams on injured reserve Thursday because of a neck injury and signed fullback Montell Owens. Williams appeared in 12 games in his second season with Chicago.

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