METAIRIE, La. — It’s easy to grasp a sense of the logistical purpose, echoed in every corner of the New Orleans Saints' locker room as the huge carrot of a No. 1 seed dangles in the wind.
This is the place to be: Win one more game and the Saints don’t have to leave town again for a football game this season unless they’re going to Super Bowl LIII.
“It’s big,” assured Sheldon Rankins, the force in the middle of the D-line, as he pondered the matchup Sunday against Pittsburgh. “Take care of business this week and everything runs through here.”
True enough. Claiming home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs, with all of the recent history that represents and all of the bedlam that comes at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, would be quite the reward for a team that has — what? — the NFL’s best road record at 7-1.
But here’s the rub attached to this mission to secure dome-field advantage: Will the Saints get their groove back?
That question is legitimate enough for a team — even one that ranks second in the NFL in averaging 32.8 points per game — that just endured a grueling, three-game road swing which began with the stunning loss at Dallas and continued with the Saints flirting with losing the next two games.
Sure, they demonstrated some serious grit and resilience. There are brimming with the confidence that as much as they’d rather not, they can win anywhere. That’s another theme the Saints (12-2) are expressing after the winning ugly in Carolina on Monday night.
As Drew Brees put it, “It’s good to be battle-tested.”
Especially when you’ve survived with the destiny of a No. 1 seed still in your hands. It has to be a relief, too, coinciding with the Rams’ two-game losing streak.
“Bottom line is this: Regardless of how those games played out for the first 3 ½ quarters, we went into these past two games on the road, in the division, down at half, down going into the fourth quarter, and found a way to win,” said Brees, who had his lowest-rated efficiency game of the season (69.1) at Carolina, but was glad to trade it for the proverbial team W.
“And regardless of the scenarios or circumstances that we encounter throughout the year in any given game, we always have hope, we always have a chance and we’re confident in that.”
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