METAIRIE, La. - The NFC playoff picture is getting clearer, and the New Orleans Saints, despite an 0-4 start and a 5-7 record two weeks ago, are still in the thick of it.
After a loss to Tampa Bay dropped the Saints to 5-7 and all but eliminated them from the NFC South title race, they knew they would have to win their final four games to have a shot at a wild-card berth.
Victories against Atlanta and Arizona the last two weeks have them halfway there - but they need help. More wins and at least one loss by the Minnesota Vikings are the keys to getting the Saints to 9-7 and into the playoffs.
Next up for New Orleans: the 6-8 Eagles on Sunday at the Superdome.
"For us, after the Tampa loss, it was pretty clear what we were going to have to do to give ourselves even a chance," coach Sean Payton said this week. "We're fighting still. We're scratching. There was a group of teams three weeks ago that were in that situation, and that group gets smaller each week."
The Saints will close the regular season in Chicago on Dec. 30.
In what would be a rematch of last season's NFC title game, the Saints and Bears could meet again in an important matchup. This time, playoff implications could be at stake only for the Saints, since the Bears are 5-9.
The Saints "understand that the margin for error is pretty slim and we have to play good football here in these last two games," Payton said. "I think it's a lot more challenging when the subject comes up with five weeks, four weeks, six weeks left in the season."
The Saints and Eagles know each other well. New Orleans beat Philadelphia last season in a regular-season game and in the playoffs.
The Eagles are coming off an upset win over Dallas, the NFC East champion, and Payton expects a tough challenge.
"I'm not going to have to stand up at the pulpit to try and explain it to [the players] that they are going to have to get up to play this game," Payton said. "They know that."
New Orleans has won seven of 10 games behind quarterback Drew Brees, who completed 26 of 30 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals.
"He's played at a very high level over the last two-thirds of this season," Payton said, "and he's a big reason that we're still hanging around."
Payton said running back Reggie Bush could return for the Eagles game. Bush has missed two games because of a torn ligament in his left knee. Payton said Bush planned to practice today.
The prognosis for defensive tackle Brian Young was less encouraging. Young, who missed the Cardinals game because of what was thought to be a chest cold, has been hospitalized with pneumonia.