SCOUTING REPORT: Forget about draft positioning. If the Saints walk the plank against the Bucs, there are bigger issues to worry about.
Throw away the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Ignore the laundry on the other side of the field.
Throw it all away. The only opponent you need to know this week will be wearing black and gold.
In other words, the Saints only need to worry about the Saints this week. This game, in the grand scheme of things, does not matter.
A win would damage both teams’ draft stock. The current players do not care about that. For whatever reason, tanking has never taken hold in the NFL. Despite campaigns from fans for teams to purposely lose, teams typically go out and put forth a solid effort. The Saints say they will do just that this week.
So here is what to look for:
-- Does the team come out and put forth a solid effort?
-- Do the players look interested?
-- Do blown assignments and the same mistakes that have plagued this team all year pop up again?
If New Orleans answers all of these questions the right way, then it likely will lead to a victory. That’s a bad thing for its draft status, but it’s also probably a good thing for the makeup of this team.
The Saints have dealt with whispers about chemistry and maturity all season. People have questioned whether there is enough leadership in the locker room. If this team comes out and plays with heart, looks interested and does all of the small things, then we’ll at least know things haven’t gone toxic, and some of the issues might not be as bad as we assumed.
If this team goes into the tank, doesn’t listen to the coaching staff and lays down Sunday, then there might be more work to do this offseason to overhaul the roster.
That would not be a good thing. It would mean all the rumors are true, and those issues could linger into the 2015 season.
So while you might be cheering for draft stock, that could mean you’re also cheering for bigger issues in the locker room.
It’s a confusing time to be a fan of this team.
So if you’re worried about the draft, maybe the best idea is to cheer for a hard-fought loss.
Know your depth chart: Cornerbacks
In some ways, the battle for roster spots for next season could start this week.
The biggest place where there is likely to be changes next season is at cornerback. If everything goes to plan this winter and spring, what that means is the current crop of cornerbacks likely will be fighting to keep spots at the bottom of the depth chart.
That means guys like Terrence Frederick, Brian Dixon and Corey White need to get a jump on things Sunday. Frederick has started the past two games and has performed decently in his role. If he hopes to be included in next year’s plans, he will have to continue to step up and show he can grow into his role.
Dixon beat out Champ Bailey for a roster spot coming out of training camp but has had an up-and-down season that has seen him bounce all over the depth chart. One last strong performance could be the impression he needs to make if he hopes to stick around.
White’s future is murkier. He has been practicing as a safety the past few weeks and has struggled to find snaps. If he gets on the field, he needs to show he can still add value. Otherwise ...
Three and out
1. INGRAM WATCH: Mark Ingram enters the finale needing 93 yards to reach the 1,000-yard plateau. If he hits the mark, he would be the first Saints player to reach it since Deuce McAllister in 2006.
2. GALETTE’S SACKS: Junior Galette enters the final game of the season needing three sacks to earn $6.5 million in future bonuses. Needless to say, he’ll be plenty motivated.
3. MORAL VICTORIES: A loss would give the Saints their fewest wins since the 2005 season. It might not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but that’s something to play for, at least.
OUT: LT Terron Armstead (neck), NT John Jenkins (abdomen)
-- Armstead’s injury knocked him out of the win in Chicago on Dec. 15 and then kept him out of the loss at home to Atlanta last Sunday. He missed team drills all week. Under him on the depth chart are Bryce Harris and Nick Becton. ... Jenkins didn’t practice all week. It seems he was hurt in the loss at home to Atlanta, and he was put on injured reserve Saturday. Under him on the depth chart is rookie Lawrence Virgil, and Brandon Deaderick can rotate into the spot.
PROBABLE: S Jamarca Sanford (hamstring), RT Zach Strief (neck)
-- Both missed one practice this week but were limited in the two others. Sanford missed the Atlanta game after starting at strong safety in Chicago. Strief apparently was hurt against Atlanta but didn’t miss a snap.
DOUBTFUL: LB Mason Foster (Achilles)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Isaiah Frey (ankle), S Dashon Goldson (shoulder), WR Robert Herron (hip), WR Solomon Patton (foot), RB Bobby Rainey (wrist)
Ramon Antonio Vargas: Saints 28, Buccaneers 20
As strange as this season was, some truths took hold. These days, the Saints are bad indoors, going 3-8 in domed venues this year. They’re 3-1 outdoors, where the New Orleans dome team is supposed to struggle. Well, they’ll finish 4-1 outdoors against a team that hasn’t won at home in more than a year.
Nick Underhill: Saints 30, Buccaneers 23
It’s impossible to know what’s going to happen with the Saints on a week-to-week basis. Will the good Saints or the bad Saints show up this week? I’ll go ahead and guess the good Saints show up since it’s a road game and this team only seems to know how to win on the road.
Scott Rabalais: Saints 27, Buccaneers 23
Who cares about this meaningless game more? That’s what it comes down to. The Saints have superior talent but probably can’t wait to end this sorry season fast enough. Ditto for the Buccaneers. Make it four in a row on the road for the Saints to end this topsy-turvy season.