It wasn't all that long ago, when the New Orleans Saints had just won their 8 straight game in a row; and looking ahead to the remaining 5 games on their schedule at that time, figured that the Week #15 game against the New York Jets at home inside the Superdome, wouldn't be one that they'd have to worry about as far as "needing to win".
But now suddenly the Saints have lost 2 of their last 3 games, and while at (9-4) still find themselves atop the NFC South Division and the current #4 seed in the NFC Playoffs with 3 games remaining, New Orleans now DOES need a win over the Jets this Sunday, so as not to relinquish their current hold on one of the 6 Playoff spots in the conference.
The good news is that the Saints are currently a 15-POINT FAVORITE to win this game on Sunday.
According to ESPN Stats and Information (via ESPN's Saints beat writer Mike Triplett), that is the highest point spread in Saints franchise history, which dates back to 1967.
However, the bad news is that if for some reason the Saints lose this game against the (5-8) Jets, it could actually RUIN what has been a "magical season" for a Saints team that most experts and analysts figured was another year or two away from contending for a Playoff spot.
A loss to the Jets means that New Orleans could even potentially fall all the way down to 7th place in the NFC Playoff seedings; and possibly would then need a win the following week at home in the "rematch" with Atlanta to avoid missing the Playoffs altogether.
How so, you ask?
A Saints loss to the Jets would put them at (9-5) and drop them to as far as third place in the NFC South only if the Carolina Panthers (9-4) win at home Sunday against the Green Bay Packers (7-6) and the Falcons (8-5) win on the road Monday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8).
Next, the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) could overtake the Los Angeles Rams (9-4) for the NFC West lead with a home win Sunday against the Rams that would give Seattle the season series sweep.
That would make the Panthers and Seahawks the two division leaders with the #3 and #4 seeds.
That also would leave the Saints, Falcons and Rams in a three-way tie for the two Wild-Card spots, and with the Saints having lost to both teams, they would be left out of the projected playoff field with two weeks to play.
The Saints would then need to win the "rematch" against the Falcons to avoid possibly being eliminated entirely from the NFC Playoff race with only one game left to play.
Does that mean that Saints fans should be worried or panic-stricken?
Of course not.
But it definitely means that your favorite team in Black and Gold with the fleur-de-lis symbol on their helmets, better be READY to play some "lights out" football this Sunday.
If there was ever a time for this year's Saints football team to come out "fired up" and ready to play with the emotion of a sold-out home crowd at the Superdome behind them?
Then this game against the Jets this Sunday, with everything suddenly now taking on added importance, is certainly the time to do so.
As it is, staying motivated to beat a team that the so-called experts out in Las Vegas are predicting you will completely "blow out" of the stadium, is hard enough.
But with their entire season now potentially on the line, this Saints team should not lack for any type of motivation to go out and finish the season strong, beginning with this Sunday's contest.
The biggest key to a victory this Sunday from the way that we see it here at the Saints News Network?
There's a few of them actually, but one in particular one stands out:
"Don't be nice to Bryce".
3rd year Jets back-up QB Bryce Petty will make his first start of the 2017 season Sunday against the Saints. Petty is slated to make his 6th career start, with 3rd string QB Christian Hackenberg as his back-up.
With starting Jets QB Josh McCown now out (and done) for the final 3 games with a broken left hand , it's an opportunity that Petty has been waiting patiently for since the Jets drafted him in the 4th Round from Baylor University in 2015.
McCown was injured last Sunday in the Jets' 23-0 loss at Denver and had season-ending surgery Tuesday. The 38-year-old veteran was having the best season of his 15-year NFL career with a career-high 18 touchdown passes and 2,926 yards.
Meanwhile, as newyorkjets.com Senior Writer Eric Allen noted yesterday: Petty will now finish the season as the new starter; and having played in a different offensive system last year, Petty only managed to complete 56.4% of his passes in six appearances, with a 3 TD to 7 interception pass ratio.
Allen adds that the 6’3”, 230-pounder is a tough competitor who throws an accurate long ball and is athletic enough to create space in and outside the pocket. While he completed just 2-of-9 in his relief role against the Broncos last week after McCown was injured, Petty did manage to connect on 67% of his throws in the Pre-Season.
However, this is Week #15 of the regular season and he will be facing a Saints defense that knows it needs to win, and he will have to do it in a hostile environment inside of what should be a loud and boisterous Superdome.
So an "easy time of it", isn't something that he should expect to get from the Saints defense that actually played one of its better games of the year last week at Atlanta, despite losing a handful of starters due to injuries.
Petty didn't see any game-action as a rookie, but played last year in 2016 when then-starter Ryan Fitzpatrick was hurt. He took over as the starter late in the season when Fitzpatrick was benched and Geno Smith (now the back-up to Eli Manning with the Giants) got injured, but then Petty suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week #16.
Yesterday after the Jets morning practice, he told reporters that he's only focusing on this Sunday's game at the Superdome, and not much else beyond that.
QUESTION: "Do you see yourself remaining in this role beyond the rest of this year?"
"Not at all," Petty said. "This right here is for these guys in this locker room. I have nothing as far as looking toward the future. This right here is for these guys in the locker room, it's for Josh. He set a standard as to how to be a professional, how to be a quarterback."
Petty told the media that he's actually spoken with McCown over the past few days, and that the long-time NFL veteran shared some advice with him.
"(He told me) just to be me," Petty said. "It's not about trying to replace Josh and trying to be Josh. It's to be Bryce and find little successes.
"Whether that's how I approach the game, in the game, just smiling is important — understanding that it is a blessing to be here and I think that is something I was upset with myself about last game — I don't know if I smiled too much. I wanted to bring us back.
"Just to smile and have fun and enjoy what I'm doing."
For the Saints defense, they aren't taking Petty's relative inexperience lightly, by any means.
"I know he was a baller at Baylor," Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro told assembled New Orleans area media yesterday.
Vaccaro, who as a former player at the University of Texas, is more than familiar with Petty from his college days; although he never actually played against Petty but obviously follows Big 12 Conference football.
"He hasn't played that many snaps in this league yet for me to put my opinion out on him. I know he's a better athlete than people give him credit for. He has a strong arm."
For Petty, his biggest issues have been being able to read what type of different looks / schemes that NFL defenses have thrown at him in game-situations, and more importantly: a notable lack of consistent accuracy.
Which is exactly why you should expect Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to mix up the looks as often as possible in a concerted effort to confuse Petty, simply because an over-abundance of blitzing and repeatedly using pressure packages might actually work in Petty's favor.
The Saints defense, which is currently tied for 10th in the NFL in scoring defense (20.2 points per game), in all likelihood will try to make Petty hesitant and force him to perhaps over-analyze or to think too much about where he's going to go with the football, instead of forcing him to make quick decisions — which could work to his advantage because of his improvisational skills "on the fly".
It's what made him a college "superstar" at Baylor, and what the Saints will try to avoid having happen to them in a game as important to their Playoff chances, as this one will be.
Saints head coach Sean Payton acknowledged as much yesterday.
QUESTION: "The Jets are turning to Bryce Petty following Josh McCown suffering a season-ending hand injury. What are the challenges of facing a guy who hasn’t seen a lot of regular season experience and what tape do you go to, preparing for him?"
Said Payton: “The tape’s there. The games he’s played in, the preseason (games), any of the games he’s played in our league. The college tape’s there. Obviously you don’t have the same vocabulary you may have with another player."
"He’s athletic. He can run when the pocket breaks down. He can scramble and flush and make yards with his feet. He can beat you with his arm when he scrambles, but we have to study what we do have and pay attention to the situations as an offense as they handle third down, red zone or those types of things.”
How Petty does or doesn't manage to operate the Jets offense will certainly dictate the outcome, but for the Saints they know what is at stake.
In a season that has been nothing short of magic at times, to see it ruined by not "showing up" for this game would certainly be one of the worst things that could ever happen for the franchise and its super-rabid fan-base.
That's why hopefully we will see a "lights out" performance on Sunday against the Jets — so that 2017's magical season, can possibly continue on into 2018 as well......