14 wins in one season, which would be a team record as well as the entire NFL's best record this year. The franchise record for receiving yardage in one season. And of course: adding to the overall numbers in the race for League MVP. Those are just a few of the numbers and statistics that the New Orleans Saints have an opportunity to achieve in the team's final Regular Season game this Sunday afternoon vs. the Carolina Panthers.
However: with New Orleans having already wrapped up the NFC's #1 Playoff seed, the belief among many observers and analysts at the moment is that the Saints would be better a lot better served by holding out many of their key starting players from this Sunday's contest; so that the team can be well-rested and allow injuries extra time to heal before embarking on what they hope will be a run all the way to Super Bowl LIII (53) in Atlanta.
So — what will the Saints do?
It's a dilemma that Saints head coach Sean Paytonreiterated to reporters at his weekly open session with the media yesterday, was fraught with possibilities, although he had been adamant earlier in the week that the team planned to approach this week just as if it were any other type of regular season contest.
"No. 1, it's our job," Payton said. "We have a chance to win more games in the regular season than any team in Saints history. No. 2, it's not like when you're playing in the preseason and you have 90 players and you begin to look at how you want to fit all these players. You can't do that. You have 46 (players) on game day coming out of your 53-man roster. So any time you line up to play, anytime we prepare to play, there's really only one way to go about doing that."
If the Saints were to defeat Carolina at the Superdome this Sunday afternoon, they would finish the 2018 NFL Regular Season with a (14-2) win-loss record, which would top the (13-3) mark the team had twice previously in franchise history: the 2009 season when they won the Super Bowl; and then once again just two years later in the 2011 NFL season.
"There's a lot at stake relative to some individuals but also the evaluation process and also as a team of being able to hit that 14th win," Payton said. "That's a lot."
As it turns out: a 14 win regular season isn't the only stat or number that several players are hoping to achieve in the season's final 60 minutes worth of game action this Sunday.
Saints starting QB and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees needs just 8 yards passing to reach 4,000 yards for the 13th consecutive season, which undoubtedly could potentially help him in the race for League MVP against the other presumed favorite, Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes.
Then there's 3rd year superstar WR Michael Thomas, who only needs a mere 24 yards more to break the single-season franchise record of 1,399 receiving yards, currently held by Saints living legend Joe Horn.
And even though it might be somewhat of a "long shot": 8th year veteran and #1 RB Mark Ingram is just 118 yards away from moving past Deuce McAllister as the team's all-time leader in total rushing yardage.
But nevertheless, It goes without saying that despite all of the stats and numbers that potentially could be attainable this Sunday, NONE of them really matter in the grander scheme of things and especially not anywhere nearly important as achieving their ultimate goal — the very same goal that they've had now for quite some time — which is getting to and hopefully winning the Super Bowl.
Teams in the past that were currently in the Saints' very favorable position at the moment but didn't take advantage of the chance to rest their starting players in what essentially are "meaningless games", more often than not ended up not making the Super Bowl.
That's because either they essentially were worn out physically by the Playoffs; or simply just had injuries that weren't given an adequate amount of time to properly heal.
It's a chance that most teams would normally choose NOT to risk taking.
"Is the goal to win the most games in franchise history in the regular season or is the goal to put ourselves in the best position come playoff time?" Brees said to reporters in yesterday's open media session.
"I think we know the answer to that question. None of us know how this is going to play out on Sunday. Of course, I think efforts are going to be made to rest guys where appropriate and make sure they are as healthy as they can be when we're playing for keeps."
Brees is exactly right in this instance, because while it may be nice that the Saints have been constantly breaking or setting records this season, getting to and then WINNING the Super Bowl has always been their ultimate goal.
Allowing the starters to play just to break or set a few extra records, seems rather disingenuous to say the very least.
But you can also believe this much: the Saints are more than well aware of that very fact, and it's the reason why Who Dat fans that have already made reservations to be in Atlanta, Georgia on the first weekend in February, can feel pretty good about their financial investment.