NEW ORLEANS — Akiem Hicks doesn’t make many guarantees.
But there’s one thing he can and does promise – Sunday’s noon game between Carolina and Atlanta won’t be on his mind.
“I guarantee you I won’t be looking,” the Saints’ second-year defensive end said.
For most people with ties to the Saints, the Panthers-Falcons game will be must-see TV, one that could hold major significance for New Orleans.
The players aren’t most people. In fact, they’d argue they can’t be most people.
The only thing those donning all black today will care about is New Orleans’ 3:25 p.m. home game against Tampa Bay.
“What’s the point in scoreboard watching? Really,” long-time Saint Zach Strief said. “We win, we’re in. The seeding is irrelevant in terms of this game. We have to win either way.”
The Saints could land anywhere from the No. 2 seed to out of the playoffs this weekend.
Beat the Bucs and have Carolina lose and they earn a first-round bye and a home game. Lose to Tampa Bay and have Arizona beat San Francisco and the Saints are out of the playoffs.
They could also earn a No. 5 seed if Arizona beats San Francisco, Carolina beats Atlanta and the Saints win against Tampa.
A No. 6 seed also is possible should San Francisco and Carolina win.
With all that head-spinning information at hand, it would be easy to lose focus on game day.
Add to that the devastating loss at Carolina a week ago and the Saints will have several reasons to lose focus.
Coach Sean Payton doesn’t believe that’ll be a problem.
“I don’t think this is a week where they can’t recognize or understand any of us can’t value the importance of this game,” Payton said. “This would be like a playoff game.”
Listen to Hicks and you know Payton has a good feel for his team.
“You don’t want to put your destiny in anybody else’s hands,” Hicks said. “That’s what we want the opportunity to do, to go out and put our destiny in our own hands and be successful.”
The good news for New Orleans is where this game is being played. It has been an otherworldly team inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. In seven home dates this season, the Saints have outscored opponents by 122 points, winning by an average of 17.4 points per game. And only two teams have come within a touchdown of the Saints at home.
“We are looking at playing our best game here,” Payton said. “We are coming back home, taking advantage of what we get when we play at home and playing a good football game.”