Is "MNF" Showdown in New Orleans More Important for Patriots or Saints?

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Nov. 20, 2005. New England 24, New Orleans 17.

The Patriots marched out to a commanding 24-7 lead before a valiant comeback by the over-matched Saints fell 22 yards short.

Much has changed since the last time these two teams met.

The Saints were mired in the most miserable season in franchise history, a season that will be forever known as the "Katrina" season.

The Patriots were one year removed from their third Super Bowl title in four years. Two years later, New England would rip through the regular season undefeated.

Speaking of undefeated...

Just how important is this game for the 10-0 New Orleans Saints?

If you ask ESPN, the network televising the game, they will tell you that the Week 12 inter-conference tilt is the biggest game of the regular season.

Some members of the national media will tell you that Drew Brees needs to beat Tom Brady to cement his status among the league's elite quarterbacks.

Really?!

I guess leading a team from 3-13 one year to their first NFC championship game the next meant nothing.

Neither did passing for more than 5,000 yards and leading the team to eight victories when they wouldn't have won four without him.

Brees doesn't have the resume that Brady and Peyton Manning have, but at 30 years old, he's likely got five or six peak years left in him.

They'll also tell you that the Saints need to beat the almighty Patriots to validate what's already been an historic ride because the schedule to date has been "soft."

While three of New Orleans' victories have come against the Lions, Rams, and Buccaneers, to suggest the schedule is soft is ludicrous.

Strength of schedule only really matters to the BCS.

A victory by the Saints would place them at 11-0 and give them a legitimate shot at running the table.

So, how important is this game really for the Saints?

I'd argue it's the least important of their remaining six games.

Finishing unbeaten in the regular season means nothing if you aren't playing your best at the end and can't finish. Just ask the Patriots.

The most important thing for the New Orleans Saints to focus on between now and the end of the year is to get better, get healthy, and keep home-field advantage out of Minnesota.

To expect the Saints to finish 16-0, especially with slightly less than half of the season remaining, is ridiculous.

For argument's sake, let's say they must lose one of their last six games. If that's the case, Monday's game is the one I'd pick.

Why? Because it's a non-conference game.

The Minnesota Vikings currently sit at 9-1. Their single loss is also at the hands of a non-conference foe (week seven at Pittsburgh).

If the Vikings and Saints were to finish with identical 15-1 records, the only chance the Saints would have at the No. 1 seed would be if they won all of their NFC games.

If you are a Saints fan, would you rather Brees orchestrate his offense in the comforts of his home stadium, or have him face Jared Allen and company while battling the roar of the crowd at Mall of America Field?

(Is it just me, or is adding "Mall of America Field" just a little less intimidating than just calling it the Metrodome?)

Ask the San Francisco 49ers about the magic Brett Favre can work on his home turf.

In essence, the game against the offensively challenged Washington Redskins the following week is more important than Monday's clash of the titans in the Superdome.

This game is way more important for the Patriots.

At 7-3, New England is battling a number of teams, including the Bengals and Chargers, for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

With just a two-game lead in the AFC East, a Patriots' loss and Dolphins' victory in Week 12 (Miami plays sinking Buffalo) would mean that the division lead would be at stake when these two teams meet the following week in Miami.

Including Monday night, the Patriots play four of their last six games on the road.

Besides New Orleans and Miami, they must play Carolina (4-6), who can run on anyone, and also Jacksonville (6-4) and Houston (5-5), who will likely be fighting for their playoff lives.

The easiest game on their schedule appears to be Week 15 against Buffalo, but always throw out the records when playing a division opponent on the road who's looking to play spoiler.

If the Patriots lose to the Saints on Monday Night Football, they could easily be staring at an 11-5 season, which isn't a playoff guarantee anymore.

Just ask the Patriots.

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