Saints Panthers Football

New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees (9) looks to pass under pressure from Carolina Panthers' Mario Addison (97) in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

Yes, the Saints wrapped up the NFC South title two weeks ago.

And yes, they locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with Sunday's victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But that doesn't mean Sunday's regular-season finale against the Carolina Panthers will be just some meaningless scrimmage.

Saints coach Sean Payton said there's still something for the Saints (13-2) to play for and it shouldn't be hard to motivate his team.

"No. 1, it's our job," Payton said. "We have a chance to win more games in the regular season than any team in Saints history. No. 2, it's not like when you're playing in the preseason and you have 90 players and you begin to look at how you want to fit all these players. You can't do that. You have 46 (players) on game day coming out of your 53-man roster. So any time you line up to play, anytime we prepare to play, there's really only one way to go about doing that."


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If the Saints win Sunday, they would finish the season 14-2, eclipsing the 13-3 mark the team had in the 2009 season when they won the Super Bowl.

"There's a lot at stake relative to some individuals but also the evaluation process and also as a team of being able to hit that 14th win," Payton said. "That's a lot."

Payton hasn't said if he'll rest some of his starters for this week. Several players could set some individual records or milestones if they suit up. Drew Beers needs just 8 yards passing to reach 4,000 yards for the 13th consecutive season.

Receiver Michael Thomas needs 24 yards to surpass Joe Horn's single-season franchise record of 1,399 yards. And Mark Ingram is 118 yards shy of moving pass Deuce McAllister as the team's all-time leading rusher.

But there is a balance that must be met as the team focuses on the big picture: playing in Atlanta in the Super Bowl the first weekend in February.

"Is the goal to win the most games in franchise history in the regular season or is the goal to put ourselves in the best position come playoff time?" Brees said. "I think we know the answer to that question. None of us know how this is going to play out on Sunday. Of course, I think efforts are going to be made to rest guys where appropriate and make sure they are as healthy as they can be when we're playing for keeps."

Brees says he expects backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to get playing time.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera is preparing for Sunday's game expecting the Saints to be at full strength.

"We are always preparing for Drew," Rivera said. "That's one of those things. You prepare for who they have. So we are preparing for Drew, preparing for (Alvin) Kamara, preparing for Ingram and preparing for their best shot."

The Panthers, meanwhile, will try to give their best shot despite looking a lot different than they did on that Monday night on Dec. 17 when the Saints won 12-9 in Charlotte. The Panthers (6-9) have been eliminated from the playoffs and will bring a seven-game losing streak to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Making matters tougher for the Panthers is they are now down to third-string quarterback Kyle Allen.

But the Saints said they aren't taking the Panthers for granted.

"It's on us to be able to go out there and play this game like we've played every other game throughout this season," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "That's competitive, hard-nosed, physical and everything in our power to get win No. 14."

The Saints are looking to beat the Panthers for a fifth straight time, including the three wins a season ago (two in the regular season and once in the playoffs). It would be the Saints' second five-game winning streak against the Panthers, matching what they did during a stretch from the 2000-2002.

Brees said the Saints will be ready.

"Whoever is out there, whenever they are out there, is playing to win," Brees said. "And to get 14 wins would be significant."

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.