METAIRIE, La. (AP) -This week has a very familiar feeling to Saints fullback Mike Karney.
During his rookie season in 2004, the Saints were 7-8 while heading on the road for their regular season finale, still holding out faint playoff hopes.
They had to win at Carolina, which they did, then needed the New York Jets to beat St. Louis.
About 15 minutes after reaching the visitors' locker room in triumph, Saints players and coaches watched on television as the Rams kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime.
``We got the must-win and sat back and hoped for some help and couldn't get it,'' Karney recalled. ``It was tough to take.''
The Saints (7-8) can only hope things will turn out better this time around, although it seems a little less likely.
New Orleans needs to win at Chicago on Sunday, then hope that both Washington (8-7) and Minnesota (8-7) lose later that day.
Saints starting right tackle Jon Stinchcomb, a reserve on the 2004 team, said he prefers not to dwell on the long odds and instead try to appreciate the fact that the Saints made it into the final week of a difficult, up-and-down, injury-riddled regular season without being eliminated.
``Any time you can still have something to play for, it helps,'' Stinchcomb said. ``We have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Things have to happen, but that's not uncommon. Plus, there's motivation in that this is the team that put us out last year.''
Sunday's matchup in Chicago pits two of the NFL's biggest disappointments in a rematch of last season's NFC championship game. It's been worse for Chicago, which fell out of playoff contention weeks ago.
The Saints have played like a contender at times, yet they blew late leads in a pair of divisional home games against Carolina and Tampa Bay which may ultimately prove to be their undoing.
Against Carolina in Week 5, the Saints missed two field goals in the fourth quarter before Drew Brees' pass tipped off of receiver Devery Henderson's hands for an interception that set up the Panthers' winning field goal as time expired. Against Tampa Bay in Week 13, New Orleans fumbled the ball on a botched reverse while trying to protect a three-point lead inside the final four minutes. The turnover set up the Buccaneers' winning touchdown.
Had New Orleans won either game, they'd be in control of the final NFC wild-card berth. Had they won both, they might still have a shot to repeat as NFC South champs.
Instead, they're a team that has to wonder if it should still be in the playoff hunt at all.
``We haven't had a winning record this season, so when you're talking about still having a legitimate shot at the playoffs, that's obviously odd,'' Stinchcomb conceded. ``But when we play well, I don't think there are many teams that are better than us, so in that regard, I feel like we're definitely a playoff team.''
If everything falls into place for the Saints, they'd play the following week in Seattle, where they've already handily defeated the NFC West champs once this season.
``We can only win this game and come back home,'' Karney said. ``Hopefully, when the wheels hit the ground, we'll have some good news.''
Notes: Saints running backs Reggie Bush (knee) and Aaron Stecker (toe) both sat out practice on Thursday and have yet to practice this week. Stecker also has been excused on Friday because of a death in the family. If neither can play on Sunday, undrafted rookie Pierre Thomas will start. ... With Mike McKenzie out for the year with a torn right knee ligament, Jason David and Jason Craft got most of the work at cornerback, with rookie Usama Young rotating in at times, during portions of practice that reporters were permitted to observe.

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