Saints Panthers Football

New Orleans Saints' Cameron Jordan (94) celebrates after sacking Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Mike McCarn

Remember the eight-game winning streak?

Of course you do.

It got you through the whole month of October and spilled its way deep into November before coming to a screeching halt last Sunday in sunny California.

But the calendar has flipped to December now.

It's a new month.

And for the Saints, it's basically a new season.

A season that started as a 16-game marathon is now a 5-game December sprint, with the Saints and Carolina Panthers tied atop the NFC South standings and the Atlanta Falcons just a game behind.

But if you're a Saints player, or a Saints fan for that matter, there's no need to think too far ahead just yet.

Just focus on the next five days.

How well this season turns out for the Saints very well could hinge on what happens in Sunday's home game against the Panthers, followed up by Thursday's road game in Atlanta.

The Saints are 8-3, but in the next five days that quickly will turn into either 10-3, 9-4 or 8-5.

I conducted an unofficial poll on Twitter this week to get opinions on how the Saints will fare over the next two games.

Most (58 percent) are optimistic, predicting the Saints will be 10-3 after Thursday night.

Others (35 percent) were more cautious, predicting a split of these next two games and a 9-4 record.

And there was the doubting 7 percent who think the Saints will fall to 8-5.

Here's a look at all three scenarios and what they mean.

10-3: This means the Saints beat both the Panthers and then traveled east to other Mercedes-Benz Stadium and won both games and 10 of their past 11. The Saints would be sitting pretty with three very winnable games remaining (home against the Jets and the Falcons before season finale at Tampa Bay).

At that point, the Saints very well could be battling for a first-round playoff bye with a little help from someone handing the Eagles, Vikings and Rams a loss or two along the way. It would also mean the Saints would sweep Panthers, something New Orleans hasn't done since 2011. That 2011 squad, by the way, was the last Saints team to win a division championship. Win two games in five days and you have to like the chances.

But getting the season sweep against the Panthers won't be easy. This isn't the same Carolina team the Saints drilled 34-13 in Charlotte, North Carolina, back in September to jumpstart the eight-game winning streak. The Panthers are on a four-game winning streak.

This isn't the same Saints team either. Tight end Coby Fleener (concussion) and free safety Marcus Williams (groin) have already been ruled out. Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore (ankle) is questionable, as are Terron Armstead and P.J. Williams. As we've learned in recent weeks, when Lattimore is questionable, so is the Saints' defense.

9-4: This, I'd guess, is the most likely scenario.

Saints fans should be pleased with a split.

Beating Carolina at home seems doable, but then making the quick turnaround, heading to the ATL and getting a win will be a tough task. If the Saints' secondary isn't fully healthy by then, beating Julio Jones and the Falcons becomes even tougher.

8-5: If the Saints lose to both the Panthers and Falcons, it would mean a three-game losing streak that probably should be a four-game losing streak if not for that miracle comeback against the Redskins two weeks ago. Hopes for a division title would likely be gone, and New Orleans would find itself fighting for a wild-card spot.

That wild-card race is sure to be as jam-packed as Thursday's Atlanta traffic.

A win Sunday would go a long way toward helping the Saints avoid a similar traffic jam in the NFC South race.

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.