The Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans posted victories last weekend that helped strengthen their playoff chances. They’ll need to keep that momentum going if they want to reach the postseason.
The Packers and Saints each seek to make it two in a row on Monday night as they meet at the Superdome for the first time in over six years.
Green Bay and New Orleans enter with identical 5-5 records, but are in vastly different positions within their divisions.
Last Sunday, the Packers moved into a three-way tie for the NFC North lead with a 37-3 rout at home over rival Chicago, while the Saints - last in the NFC South - posted their first road win of the season, 30-20 over lowly Kansas City.
With the playoffs still several weeks away, the teams put their results in perspective as they shifted focus to this contest.
“There is a sense of urgency that this game is important and it’s certainly important for Green Bay,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “I think that after this game next week there’s going to be that same urgency because not only the division, but the rest of the NFC is playing pretty well.”
Payton’s team, which has alternated wins and losses in its last six contests, closes out the regular season with matchups against all three division rivals among six conference games.
The first of those comes at home, where the Saints are 3-1. Since beating Oakland there on Oct. 12, New Orleans has played three road games, had its bye week, and was designated as the home team in a win over San Diego that was played in London.
Green Bay, meanwhile, is 2-3 away from home this season, and looks to avoid its first three-game road slide since Nov. 27-Dec. 19, 2005.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy returns to New Orleans for the first time since serving as the Saints’ offensive coordinator from 2000-04. McCarthy held the same position with San Francisco the following year before joining Green Bay, but has faced his former team just once since departing as the Packers lost 37-24 at home on Sept. 17, 2006.
Green Bay owns a 14-6 advantage in the all-time series despite losing two of the last three meetings. It’s also won six of 10 in New Orleans, but fell 35-20 there on Sept. 15, 2002 in its only visit to the Superdome this decade.
A victory on Monday would give the Packers back-to-back wins for a third time this season, but that would be a first for the Saints in 2008.
Green Bay is coming off a dominant defensive performance as it held Chicago to 234 total yards and a season low in points while scoring its franchise-record seventh defensive touchdown.
The Packers allow an average of 333.9 yards, but have been particularly stingy against the pass as they’ve yielded 176.3 per contest while totaling 16 interceptions. That unit will face a Saints offense that is among the best in the NFL, averaging 416.9 yards and 29 TDs behind quarterback Drew Brees, who’s thrown for 3,251 yards with 18 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
“The Saints possess an excellent challenge for us,” McCarthy said. “They have the ability to attack you a lot of different ways. I think Drew Brees and Sean Payton are a very good match as far as the way Sean attacks a defense and Drew’s ability to run the wide-open offense.”
While going 1-1 in his career versus Green Bay, Brees has passed for 716 yards with four TDs. Against Kansas City last Sunday, he went 25-for-36 with a TD to send the Saints to their first road win in six tries.
Rodgers, averaging 235.1 yards, is hoping one of his favorite targets will be available. Donald Driver, second on the team with 572 yards and three receiving touchdowns, was expected to sit out practice on Wednesday and Thursday to rest nagging injuries, but McCarthy said Driver is also dealing with a personal situation.
If Driver can’t play, Green Bay could turn more to Ryan Grant, who had 25 carries for a season-high 145 yards - the seventh 100-yard performance of his career and his second in 2008 - and a TD last weekend.
New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister, meanwhile, has a team-leading 299 yards and tied Dalton Hilliard for the Saints’ all-time lead with his 53rd career touchdown last Sunday.
Off the field, though, McAllister and teammates Will Smith and Charles Grant are among several players identified as facing suspension after testing positive for a banned diuretic. The lawyer for the three Saints players said Wednesday that the NFL’s independent drug administrator acknowledged he didn’t inform NFL players that the supplement StarCaps contained Bumetanide.