Saints eye Brees return, divisional crown

Rob Woollard
·3-min read

Drew Brees could return from a month-long injury absence on Sunday as the New Orleans Saints look to clinch their divisional crown with a heavyweight NFL showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Saints will claim the NFC South for a fourth straight year if they defeat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in what could well turn out to be a sneak preview of this season's Super Bowl.

New Orleans (10-3) are already assured of a playoff berth and will take the division with victory over the Chiefs, the reigning Super Bowl champions who have already wrapped up the AFC West title.

The Saints, who would also seal the division if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose to Atlanta, are wrestling with whether or not to play veteran quarterback Brees, who is fit again after suffering rib and lung injuries in November.

Brees was removed from injured reserve list this week, and Saints coach Sean Payton has not ruled out bringing the 41-year-old back this weekend.

"We haven't ruled anything out just because we don't have to," Payton said.

"He's someone we're not gonna just hurry back and put him in the game. The significance of the injuries are such that you've gotta make sure he can function and feel confident.

"It's just functionality, strength, throwing, without soreness, there's a process. Last week with the trainers he had one throwing day. Then yesterday, the same way. So, it's really (feeling) asymptomatic, feeling good, strong and like he'd functioned and be an asset and play well."

The Saints head into Sunday's game on the back of a shock loss to the crisis-ridden Philadelphia Eagles last week.

New Orleans are one of several teams who can win their respective divisional titles this weekend as the playoff picture takes shape.

- Buffalo to end drought? -

The Buffalo Bills (10-3) will win their first AFC East title in 25 years if they take care of business against the Denver Broncos in one of two fixtures taking place on Saturday.

The in-form Bills, who have flourished with the rapidly maturing Josh Allen at quarterback this season, served notice of their quality last Sunday with a 26-15 defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Allen, who was not even born the last time Buffalo won the AFC East, says that the Bills will not be content with merely winning the division.

""It's not an end-all be-all, we won the AFC East, lets celebrate," Allen said. "That was our goal from the start. That's the easiest way to get to the playoffs by winning your division -- it's no small task I'll tell you that.

"It's a step in the right direction and we have to keep continuing to work hard."

The Steelers (11-2) are looking to bounce back from last week's loss to Buffalo with a victory over divisional rivals Cincinnati next Monday. A win for Pittsburgh would clinch the AFC North.

Last week's defeat was the Steelers' second straight following a 23-17 reverse to Washington the previous week.

Those back-to-back losses have punctured the feel-good mood around Pittsburgh which followed their 11-0 start to the season.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger insisted there was no need for Steelers fans to panic.

"The season is not over," Roethlisberger said this week. "I want everyone out there to just take a deep breath. I know it's kind of crazy right now, but we've got time."

Elsewhere this weekend, both the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks can punch their playoff tickets from the NFC West with wins over the New York Jets and Washington Redskins.

The Rams (9-4) should have little difficulty mopping up the woeful 0-13 Jets at SoFi Stadium but the Seahawks have the trickier task on the road against the resurgent Washington Football Team.

Washington moved to the top of the NFC East last week with a 23-15 defeat of the San Francisco 49ers, their fourth straight victory following wins over Pittsburgh, Dallas and Cincinnati.

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