This Week in the NFL: For draft positioning, Saints fans need to root for the Ravens, 49ers and Cowboys (yes, really) this week _lowres

Dallas Cowboys mascot Rowdy motivates the fans before an NFL football game against the New York Jets on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Hope is dead.

The New Orleans Saints have nothing tangible to play for, and the only way for their fans to win the next two weeks is for the team to lose.

Welcome to the bottom of the NFL.

Heading into this week’s games, New Orleans was in possession of the ninth pick of the draft. And the odds of getting below Tennessee (3-11) or Cleveland (3-11) at the top of the order are extremely thin.

So the best thing for this team to do is look at the other teams in the draft order and cheer heavily for their success. Each win only improves New Orleans’ chances of getting into the top five.

Lock in on Baltimore (4-10) and cheer heavily for the Ravens to defend their home turf against Pittsburgh, which is a heavy favorite at 10 points. Don’t let that get you down. Cheer against all odds.

San Francisco (4-10) also needs to win on the road against Detroit, which looked much better than its 5-9 record last week against the Saints. The Lions are favored by nine.

And, yes, you need Dallas (4-10) to beat Buffalo on the road. That might feel most unnatural of all, but remember this is about the future. And sometimes unnatural things have to happen today for a better tomorrow.

For all of this to matter, the Saints need to keep losing. If they don’t, the New Orleans could end up outside of the top 10 and be out of range for some of the top players in the draft.

For instance, a win and a Lions loss would immediately drop the Saints a spot. Things are tight at the bottom. Each game carries big implications.

It’s been a while since this was true, but losing is back in New Orleans.

And for now, it’s in style.

Nick Underhill

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

1. Panthers (14-0)

The Panthers have looked vulnerable and need to get their invincibility back. Otherwise, someone could bring the wood on them in the playoffs.

2. Patriots (12-2)

No injury really ever seems to derail them. We’ll see if that remains true with Steven Jackson being signed and potentially taking over at running back.

3. Cardinals (12-2)

Running back David Johnson has been an absolute revelation after being a non-factor early in the season. Will Tyrann Mathieu’s injury derail the defense?

4. Seahawks (9-5)

Just like last season, the Seahawks are getting hot at the right time. Russell Wilson has taken his game to the next level, and receiver Doug Baldwin is hot.

5. Bengals (11-3)

With Andy Dalton out of action, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before this team slips out of the rankings. Maybe Pittsburgh should be in this spot already.

This week’s games

CHICAGO (5-9) at TAMPA BAY (6-8)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Buccaneers by 31/2

BRIEFLY: Bears have won two straight and four of past five in series between franchises that were once division rivals in NFC Central. ... Bears QB Jay Cutler has won all three career starts vs. Bucs. He’s topped 3,000 yards passing for seventh time in career, throwing for 3,258 with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. ... Bucs RB Doug Martin is second in NFL in rushing with 1,305 yards, 9 yards behind Adrian Peterson.

NICK’S PICK: Buccaneers 27, Bears 21


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Chiefs by 11

BRIEFLY: Cleveland has lost eight of nine. ... Johnny Manziel expected to start at QB for Browns for third straight game. ... Chiefs have won eight straight. Franchise record is nine (2003, 2013). ... KC defense is second to Carolina with 20 interceptions. Teams are tied for NFL lead with four TD returns.

NICK’S PICK: Chiefs 23, Browns 17

NEW ENGLAND (12-2) at N.Y. JETS (9-5)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Patriots by 3

BRIEFLY: Patriots became second team in NFL history with at least 12 regular-season wins in six consecutive seasons (2010-15), joining Indianapolis, which had seven straight (2003-09). ... With 64 TD connections, TE Rob Gronkowski and QB Tom Brady moved past Colts’ Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry (63) for sole possession of eighth place on NFL’s all-time list. ... Jets trying for first five-game winning streak since 2010.

NICK’S PICK: Patriots 27, Jets 20


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Dolphins by 2 1/2

BRIEFLY: Colts are making first visit to Miami since 2009. ... Colts rank next to last at 4.9 yards per play. ... Dolphins scored 82 points in Dan Campbell’s first two games as interim coach. They’ve averaged 16.3 points in their other 12 games. ... WR Jarvis Landry needs three catches to become first Miami player with 100 receptions in season.

NICK’S PICK: Dolphins 24, Colts 20

DALLAS (4-10) at BUFFALO (6-8)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Bills by 61/2

BRIEFLY: Bills have lost three straight and five of past seven meetings against Cowboys, dating to consecutive Super Bowl losses in 1992 and ’93. ... Loss would assure Cowboys’ worst finish since going 5-11 in 2002. ... QB Kellen Moore set to make first career start after taking over for Matt Cassel last weekend. ... WR Dez Bryant has touchdown catch in 14 consecutive games against AFC opponents, NFL’s longest inter-conference streak since 1970.

NICK’S PICK: Bills 20, Cowboys 17

CAROLINA (14-0) at ATLANTA (7-7)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Panthers by 61/2

BRIEFLY: Panthers won five of last six in series. ... Panthers are 14-0 for first time in franchise history. ... Cam Newton threw for 265 yards and three TDs, in Dec. 13 win over Falcons. ... Falcons WR Julio Jones leads NFL with 118 catches. He leads NFC with 1,544 receiving yards. He is one of only four in NFL history with back-to-back seasons with 100-plus catches, 1,500-plus yards.

NICK’S PICK: Panthers 31, Falcons 20


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Lions by 10

BRIEFLY: 49ers have won nine straight and 14 of 15 in series. ... San Francisco has lost four of last five games this season. ... Detroit QB Matthew Stafford set franchise record completing 88 percent of passes in Monday night win at New Orleans. ... Stafford has thrown 12 TDs, only one INT in last four games.

NICK’S PICK: Lions 24, 49ers 21

HOUSTON (7-7) at TENNESSEE (3-11)

WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Texans by 31/2

BRIEFLY: Texans can win AFC South with victory and Colts loss at Miami easiest scenario. ... Texans coming off first win at Indianapolis. ... Texans have won six of past seven in series and looking for second straight season sweep for first time in franchise history. ... Texans RB Alfred Blue ran for 107 yards last week, his third 100-yard game. ... Titans rookie WR Dorial Green-Beckham had six receptions for team-high 113 yards at New England. ... Titans TE Delanie Walker needs 65 yards to become first Tennessee TE with 1,000-yard season.

NICK’S PICK: Texans 26, Titans 21


WHEN: Noon Sunday

Line: Steelers by 10

BRIEFLY: Ravens were last team to sweep both regular-season games between these AFC North rivals, in 2011. ... Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is 10-10 vs. Ravens; Baltimore coach John Harbaugh is 9-9 against Steelers. ... Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown has 50 career catches against Baltimore — most among active receivers in regular season — but he’s scored only one TD against Ravens. ... Ravens have already lost five games at home, most in 20-year history of franchise.

NICK’S PICK: Steelers 33, Ravens 24

ST. LOUIS (6-8) at SEATTLE (9-5)

WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Seahawks by 12

BRIEFLY: Rams beat Seahawks in Week 1 and have won three of last four in St. Louis, but haven’t won in Seattle since 2004. ... RB Todd Gurley is one of three Rams to rush for 1,000 yards in rookie season, joining Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and Jerome Bettis. ... Seahawks can clinch No. 5 seed in NFC playoffs with victory and Vikings loss. ... QB Russell Wilson is first QB in NFL history with three or more touchdowns passing and zero interceptions in five straight games.

NICK’S PICK: Seahawks 27, Rams 20

GREEN BAY (10-4) At ARIZONA (12-2)

WHEN: 3:25 p.m. Sunday

Line: Cardinals by 41/2

BRIEFLY: Last time Packers played at Arizona was wild-card game in 2009 season. Cardinals won 51-45 in overtime, highest-scoring postseason game in NFL history. ... Packers-Cardinals matchup is second oldest in NFL, dating to 1921, when Cardinals played in Racine, Illinois. ... Cardinals have scored franchise-record 445 points and their 52 TDs are one shy of franchise mark, set in 1948.

NICK’S PICK: Cardinals 24, Packers 21

N.Y. Giants (6-8) at MINNESOTA (9-5)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Line: Vikings by 6

BRIEFLY: Vikings beat Giants 44-7 in last visit to Minnesota on Jan. 3, 2010. Giants were scheduled to play Dec. 12, 2010, but game was diverted to Detroit next day after snowstorm damaged Metrodome roof. ... Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. suspended by NFL for “multiple violations of safety-related playing rules” stemming from tussles with Carolina’s Josh Norman.

NICK’S PICK: Vikings 27, Giants 23

CINCINNATI (11-3) at DENVER (10-4)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Line: Broncos by 31/2

BRIEFLY: Bengals have 11-21 record on Monday nights, including win over Denver in Cincinnati last December. ... Broncos are 29-37-1 on Monday night. ... In first NFL start, Bengals QB AJ McCarron completed 15 of 21 passes for 192 yards and one TD in win over 49ers. ... QB Brock Osweiler makes sixth straight start in place of Peyton Manning (foot), who’s 8-1 vs. Cincinnati.

NICK’S PICK: Broncos 24, Bengals 20

FOR THE RECORD (straight up)

Nick’s picks last week: 11-3

For the season: 116-77