Somewhere in a private box at the Louisiana Superdome, Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt will sit and watch Drew Brees try to set an NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass.
Not to mention get the Saints out of their worst slide in years.
That suspended trio — coach Payton is sidelined for the season, general manager Loomis for eight games, interim coach Vitt for six for their roles in the bounties scandal — was given permission by the NFL to attend tonight's game against San Diego, but can't interact with Brees or the other players.
Brees tied Hall of Famer John Unitas' mark of 47 straight, set from 1956-60 by throwing for three scores in a loss at Green Bay last weekend. Then he asked Commissioner Roger Goodell about allowing the coaches and GM to attend tonight.
"It would mean a lot, and that's why I asked," Brees said. "Of course they know how this team feels about all those people and what a big part they are in our journey despite the circumstances. And the fact that we have the opportunity to break the Johnny Unitas record, and I say 'we' because it is a team deal, and Joe Vitt is a part of that, Sean Payton is a part of that and Mickey Loomis is a part of that. They are all a part of that, and I felt like they certainly deserved the opportunity to be there in attendance and share that moment with us."
While the Saints are one of two 0-4 teams, along with Cleveland, the Chargers (3-1) are on top of the AFC West. Their three wins are over Oakland, Kansas City and Tennessee, all 1-3. When they played a contender — at home — the Chargers were routed by Atlanta.
So this could be something of a proving ground for San Diego, because beating even a winless Saints squad in New Orleans never is a Big Easy. And with emotions running wild over Brees' pursuit of Unitas' record — and with Payton, Loomis and Vitt on hand — the Chargers' challenge is amplified.
"It's the same team that's made deep playoff runs and it's the same team that's won Super Bowls," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who replaced Brees as the starter in 2006, when Brees headed to New Orleans as a free agent. "We know what we're in for (tonight). I know just from the few guys that were on this team a few years ago and are now there, it's a tough and resilient group. We're going to have to play at our best if we expect to win."
Atlanta (4-0) at Washington (2-2)
It is a measure of how far the Falcons have come this year that they can move from their 1-yard-line in the final moments to field goal position and beat the Panthers. It's also a measure to see them with a league-best plus-10 turnover margin — the Falcons have only two giveaways and no fumbles lost — and a stingy pass defense. Atlanta has cured some major issues of the recent past.
The Falcons got some helpful preparation for facing sensational rookie QB Robert Griffin III when they played 2011's top offensive rookie, Cam Newton, last Sunday. But Griffin is part of a much better running game than the Panthers presented. That will test Atlanta's ground defense, which ranks 29th.
Denver (2-2)at New England (2-2)
Few quarterback duels get the blood flowing like Peyton Manning against Tom Brady. They had a decade's worth of memorable matchups when it was Colts versus Patriots. Now, Manning is in Denver, but that doesn't change the vibes much.
Both come off huge games against bad defenses, and the Patriots have improved their defense enough that it leads the AFC with 11 takeaways. Early in his career, Manning struggled against Bill Belichick designs, but not so much anymore.
Philadelphia (3-1)at Pittsburgh (1-2)
The Steelers have struggled, but with safety Troy Polamalu, LB James Harrison and RB Rashard Mendenhall expected back from injuries, they become a more formidable opponent. Pittsburgh has protected the ball well, but also has forced only three turnovers — hardly Steel Curtain football.
Everyone has profited in the turnover department against the Eagles, whose 12 giveaways are the most in the NFC. Philly has won its games by a total of four points.
Green Bay (2-2)at Indianapolis (1-2)
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians steps in as interim coach for Indy while Chuck Pagano battles leukemia. That adds to the challenges the Colts are facing as they come off a bye week.
Baltimore (3-1)at Kansas City (1-3)
Kansas City has allowed 136 points overall and 77 in two home losses, hardly the right approach against a Baltimore team that has become dangerous offensively. Even worse, the Chiefs have the NFL's most giveaways, 15, a bad sign against the Ravens' ball-hawkers.
After a busy opening four weeks, the Ravens finally are rested, having last played on Sept. 27.
Cleveland (0-4)at New York Giants (2-2)
The Giants recognize that they messed up late at Philly last Sunday night, costing them sole possession of the NFC East lead. With a brutal upcoming schedule, a victory against the winless Browns.
Yet, the Giants have struggled in recent years against mediocre (or worse) opponents.
Buffalo (2-2)at San Francisco (3-1)
Early in the third quarter last week, the Bills led New England 21-7 and were envisioning a solo spot atop the AFC East. Then the Patriots stopped fooling around and soon were headed to a 52-28 romp.
The Niners aren't likely to score that many points, but their fierce, opportunistic defense almost certainly won't yield anything close to four touchdowns.
This could be an entertaining matchup on the ground with Buffalo's Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller trying to outdo San Francisco's Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. It also could turn into a mismatch if Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and the rest of the 49ers' defense shuts down the Bills' running attack and forces Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw under duress. Fitzpatrick's 12 TD passes top the league, but he's also thrown seven interceptions.
Miami (1-3) at Cincinnati (3-1)
With two division matches after this, Cincinnati needs to pay attention against a Dolphins squad that lost its last two games in overtime, blowing leads in both. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been sensational late in games and has the best fourth-quarter passing rating in the NFL, 151.7.
Seattle (2-2) at Carolina (1-3)
Reverse the site of this game and the Seahawks are a strong favorite. Instead, they make one of the longest road trips possible in the NFL, 2,800 miles, to face an angry group of Panthers.
Carolina had Atlanta pinned at its 1-yard line in the final moments last Sunday and still managed to blow the game. For developing teams, such defeats can be devastating.
Chicago (3-1)at Jacksonville (1-3)
The addition of WR Brandon Marshall has energized Chicago's offense and even made Jay Cutler less sullen. But it's the defense that is making the Bears formidable with a league-high 14 takeaways, including 11 interceptions. They've run back three picks for touchdowns.
That paints a distressing picture for the Jaguars, whose 62 points are the fewest of any team to have played four games.
Tennessee (1-3)at Minnesota (3-1)
One of the league's biggest flops through a quarter of the schedule visits one of the most pleasant surprises.
Tennessee is without starting QB Jake Locker (shoulder), so Matt Hasselbeck gets the call. He'll need Chris Johnson to resemble the running back he was last week with 141 yards, not the impostor of the previous three games.
Houston (4-0)at New York Jets (2-2)Monday night
Just what the reeling Jets need on the heels of their worst performance of the Rex Ryan era: a visit from unbeaten Houston.
The Texans have had only one close game so far, have yielded the fewest points in the league (56), have scored the second most (126), have the top-rated defense in yards allowed and ... shall we continue?