This Week in the NFL: What’s best for Saints — winning or losing? _lowres

Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Keith Tandy (37) upends New Orleans Saints running back Tim Hightower (34) after a short gain during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

If our Twitter mentions are any indication, after last week’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there are still some Saints fans out there who have their eye more on the playoffs than getting a better draft position.

The only problem is that it’s bad news for both contingents. If the draft were today, the Saints would be picking outside of the top 10. That means Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell and Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche are all likely currently out of reach.

And for those hoping the Saints can still find a way to get into the playoffs, that scenario is already looking quite bleak. New Orleans could still find a way to backdoor its way in, but fate is well out of its hands. Not only do the Saints have to win every game, but they’re going to need both Minnesota and Seattle to fall into the tank.

And by fall in the tank, that means those teams need to lose their games, starting this week with Minnesota up against the Chicago Bears and Seattle up against the Cleveland Browns. Seattle is favored by as much as two touchdowns some places, and Minnesota was favored by five early in the week.

If both teams win, the Saints will be eliminated from playoff contention. New Orleans would also be eliminated with a loss.

It’s a tough spot to be in if you have a rooting interest in this team. There’s merit to finishing strong and carrying that momentum into the offseason and into the next season — especially when you are fielding a team with several young players, like the Saints.

But there’s also value in losing. A player like Smith could transform the defense with his sideline-to-sideline speed. And Treadwell would give Drew Brees a big-time target and could help turn this offense into one of the more fearsome in the NFL.

What do you cheer for? If the Saints become eliminated this week, maybe the happy medium is competitive losses.

Nick Underhill

NICK’S PICKS: Underhill’s top five teams (this week)

1. PANTHERS (13-0)

Carolina became the ninth team in NFL history to reach 13-0 last week. Love them or hate them, this team has a real chance to finish the season undefeated.

2. PATRIOTS (11-2)

The Patriots are battling a ton of injuries, with the latest to running back LeGarrette Blount, but they just got Rob Gronkowski back and look to be rolling again.

3. Cardinals (11-2)

Even with Carolinasitting on an undefeated record, it’s hard not to wonder if Arizona is the team with the best chance of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.

4. SEAHAWKS (8-5)

And don’t look now, but Seattle is starting to roll again and look like a scary team to play. Russell Wilson has looked elite since Marshawn Lynch went down.

5. BRONCOS (10-3)

A few weeks ago, it looked like Peyton Manning might have played his last game in Denver. After melting down against the Raiders last week, now some want him back.

This Week’s Games

Chiefs (8-5) at Ravens (4-9)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Chiefs by 61/2

BRIEFLY:In last meeting between teams, Ravens CB Lardarius Webb (Nicholls State) had an interceptions and three tackles. This year, he is without INT and Ravens have only four. ... Chiefs own plus-12 turnover differential, second in NFL, compared to second-worst minus-12 for Ravens. ... Chiefs QB Alex Smith’s streak of 312 passes without INT ended last week. It was second-longest run in NFL history.

NICK’S PICK: Chiefs 27, Ravens 20

Texans (6-7) at Colts (6-7)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Colts by 2

BRIEFLY: Game will break tie for division lead and give winner inside track to AFC South title. ... Both teams have lost two in row. ... Both teams will be without starting QBs. Brian Hoyer is going through concussion protocol and will be replaced by T.J. Yates as Texans starter. Colts QB Andrew Luck has missed four straight games (lacerated kidney, partially torn abdominal muscle) and has not yet been cleared to play. ... Backup QB Matt Hasselbeck will try to play with neck and rib injuries.

NICK’S PICK: Texans 24, Colts 23

Titans (3-10) at Patriots (11-2)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Patriots by 14

BRIEFLY: Patriots have beaten Titans five straight, including 17-14 divisional playoff victory in January 2004. ... Titans interim head coach Mike Mularkey is 0-5 vs. Patriots and Bill Belichick. ... Patriots have outscored Titans 133-59 over past three games in series, including 59-0 victory in 2009. ... Titans QB Marcus Mariota became first NFL player this season to pass for TD, run for TD and catch TD pass. He is first to score TDs of at least 40 yards passing, rushing and receiving in same season since Walter Payton in 1983.

NICK’S PICK:Patriots 28, Titans 20

Bills (6-7) at Redskins (6-7)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Bills by 2

BRIEFLY: Redskins are tied for NFC East lead but attempting to win consecutive games for first time this season; they have alternated wins and losses over past eight games. ... Bills can be eliminated from playoff contention with combination of loss and other teams’ results Sunday. ... Bills QB Tyrod Taylor has 100.9 passer rating; Pro Football Hall of Fame member Jim Kelly is only Buffalo player to finish any season above 100 in that category, with 101.2 in 1990.

NICK’S PICK: Bills 27, Redskins 24

Bears (5-8) at Vikings (8-5)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Vikings by 5½

BRIEFLY: Home team has won 22 of past 27 meetings between NFC North rivals. ... Bears are 4-2 on road. ... In six career games vs. Vikings, Bears WR Alshon Jeffery has 39 catches for 602 yards and five TDs, including 10 catches for 116 yards and TD on Nov. 1. ... Bears QB Jay Cutler has thrown only four interceptions in last nine games and is carrying career-best 1.8 interception per attempt percentage. Only previous time he came close to that was division title season in 2010 with 2.2. ... With three games to go, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (1,251) holds 37-yard lead for NFL rushing title over Doug Martin of Tampa Bay.

NICK’S PICK: Vikings 23, Bears 20

Falcons (6-7) at Jaguars (5-8)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Jaguars by 3

BRIEFLY: Matchup of two of league’s worst first-quarter teams, with Falcons scoring 37 points in opening 15 minutes and Jaguars managing 35. Only San Francisco has scored fewer points (18) in initial period this season. ... Falcons have lost six in row and seven of eight. Must win at least two of final three games to avoid becoming first team in NFL history to finish with losing record after starting 5-0.

NICK’S PICK: Jaguars 28, Falcons 21

Panthers (13-0) at New York Giants (6-7)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Panthers by 4

BRIEFLY: NFC South champion Panthers can clinch conference postseason home-field advantage with win and Arizona loss or tie; or tie and Arizona loss. ... Best start in franchise history and Panthers are eighth team in Super Bowl era to start 13-0. Five advanced to Super Bowl and three won it. ... QB Eli Manning had career-high 87.1 completion percentage (27 of 31), four touchdowns and no interceptions against Miami. ... WR Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU) shoots for seventh straight 100-yard game receiving.

NICK’S PICK: Panthers 28, Giants 27

Browns (3-10) at Seahawks (8-5)

WHEN: 3:05 p.m. Sunday

Line: Seahawks by 15

BRIEFLY: First meeting between teams since 2011 and first meeting in Seattle since 2003. ... Seahawks can clinch playoff spot this week with victory and certain others losing. ... Browns playing first road game since Nov. 15 at Pittsburgh. ... Browns QB Johnny Manziel makes second straight start coming off one of his best games. ... Running back is unsettled after Thomas Rawls was lost for season to broken ankle. Seahawks expected to use Bryce Brown, Christine Michael or Derrick Coleman.

NICK’S PICK: Seahawks 31, Browns 23

Packers (9-4) at Raiders (6-7)

WHEN: 3:05 p.m. Sunday

Line: Packers by 31/2

BRIEFLY: Packers won past six meetings, including three straight by at least 30 points. Raiders’ last win was 20-0 in 1987 season opener. ... Green Bay can clinch franchise-record seventh straight playoff berth with win. ... Packers RB Eddie Lacy (Dutchtown) has rushed for at least 100 yards three times in past four games.

NICK’S PICK: Packers 27, Raiders 20

Bengals (10-3) at 49ers (4-9)

WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Bengals by 6

BRIEFLY: Cincinnati win clinches AFC North and fifth straight playoff berth. ... ... AJ McCarron starts at quarterback for Bengals after Andy Dalton broke right thumb in loss at Pittsburgh. ... 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert took franchise record-matching nine sacks last week.

NICK’S PICK: 49ers 20, Bengals 17

Broncos (10-3) at Steelers (8-5)

WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Steelers by 61/2

BRIEFLY: Broncos have won four of past five meetings with Pittsburgh and haven’t lost in Steel City since 1997. ... QB Brock Osweiler will make fifth start for Denver. Broncos are 3-1 when Osweiler starts this season with Peyton Manning sidelined. ... Steelers have won nine straight games in December.

NICK’S PICK: Steelers 24, Broncos 23

Dolphins (5-8) at Chargers (3-10)

WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Chargers by 1

BRIEFLY: This could be final NFL game at Qualcomm Stadium. Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos wants to move to Los Angeles suburb Carson. ... Both have been eliminated from postseason race.

NICK’S PICK: Chargers 24, Dolphins 20

Cardinals (11-2) at Eagles (6-7)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Line: Cardinals by 31/2

BRIEFLY: Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has won 24 of past 28 starts. Palmer has team-record 31 TD passes. ... Eagles QB Sam Bradford won last three starts vs. Cardinals while with Rams. Eagles are 6-2 in last eight games he’s started and finished.

NICK’S PICK:Cardinals 27, Eagles 20

FOR THE RECORD (straight up)

Nick’s picks last week: 9-5

For the season: 105-74