Sean Payton: No 'contestant badge' for beating undefeated Panthers

METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints, spiraling toward the bottom of the standings at 4-7, will be fired up to try and beat the 11-0 Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

But not just because the Panthers are undefeated.

“Yeah, you get excited to play a team that’s having this type of success,” Saints coach Sean Payton acknowledged. “And there’s a competitive nature in you that, clearly in our case, we haven’t won here. We’ve lost three weeks in a row now.

“But I don’t think any player goes into this game thinking, ‘Well, if we can win this game, we get our little contestant badge.’”

“It’s not like you get extra points for knocking off the undefeated team,” quarterback Drew Brees added. So we’re going to prepare the same way, the motivation is the same, regardless of record.”

The main reason the Saints are fired up to play the Panthers on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is because, well, they’re the Panthers.

These two teams have been heated rivals throughout their time together in the NFC South, but especially over the past two-plus seasons.

It’s a shame that for the first time since 2012, this game won’t have any real implications on the division standings. These two teams were battling neck and neck for the division title in both 2013 (when they both won 11-plus games and split the series) and 2014 (when the entire division was under .500 and they split the series).

Earlier this year, the Saints gave the Panthers one of their biggest scares – at Carolina in Week 3, with backup quarterback Luke McCown starting in place of an injured Brees, no less. A late interception by Panthers cornerback Josh Norman in the end zone helped seal Carolina’s 27-22 victory.

The Panthers are 5-4 against the Saints since Cam Newton arrived in 2011, and they are the only NFC South team with a winning record against New Orleans since Payton and Brees arrived in 2006 (11-8).

"I just like playing Carolina regardless, whether they're 3-8 or whatever they were at one point last year or 11-0," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “I just like going out there and competing.”

Brees made similar comments, saying the Saints would be just as fired up to play the Panthers if they were “11-0, 10-1 or had our record.”

"It's a divisional game, it's a home game. It's against an opponent that we've had extremely tough matchups with ever since we've been here, especially in the last few years, kind of in the Ron Rivera era," Brees said. "So we know the type of game it's going to be. It's a four-quarter game, regardless."

And that is why the Panthers should be wary of the Saints – as harmless as they appear right now. The Panthers should feel the same way against any divisional foe.

Earlier this year, the Saints were struggling at 1-4 when they knocked off another undefeated division rival, the 5-0 Atlanta Falcons, in the Superdome. And in 2012, the Saints were 3-5 when they beat the 8-0 Falcons at home.