There is a lot riding on Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. And not just winning the NFC either. If the Saints win, they’ll clinch the NFC’s #2 seed and a first round bye in the upcoming playoffs next month.
“We know what we’re playing for—we’re playing for the divisional championship and the two seed so it doesn’t get any bigger or better than that,” quarterback Drew Brees told the Associated Press. “It is going to be a challenge for us. Obviously we understand our deficiencies on the road here the last couple of trips. It is great motivation for us to really hammer down this week, find ways to improve and get better.”
It’s a big game for both teams, but Carolina needs a win more than the Saints do. If the Panthers lose they need Arizona (Panthers lost to them in a head to head matchup) and SF to lose in order to get into the playoffs in the incredibly competitive NFC.
Both teams enter with identical 10-4 records and NO won the last game they played, 31-13 on December 8th. However, this game is at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte where Carolina is 6-1 (including six straight by an average of 18.9 points). The Panthers have outscored their opponents, 170-83 at home.
The Saints are just 3-4 on the road and a different team than they are at home, they average just 18.4 points per game on the road (27th) as opposed to 32.9ppg at home. So this will not be an easy game for them but it’s hard to see a veteran-laden team losing two games in a row.
NO is coming off a bad loss last week, they committed three turnovers and lost 27-16 to the St.Louis Rams. Drew Brees completed 39 of 56 passes for 302 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions with an 80.4 Passer Rating against the Rams. They got down early, 24-0 and Brees was passing on nearly every down to try and get them back into the game.
The Panthers are coming off a 30-20 win against the New York Jets to set up this week’s showdown.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is a much different player at home. Newton doesn’t get sacked as often at home as he does on the road (NFL-high 28 times, just 10 times at home)and he’s able to make plays with his feet. He’s also turned into a much better leader for the Panthers this season and it seems to have paid off in the teams record.
And they also need to run the ball more against their opponent’s defense, the Saints allow 116.4 yards per game on the ground (21st in the NFL). Newton is able to run and make Michael Vick-type runs, he ran six times for 48 the last time they faced off. He has over 500 yards running the ball on the season.
The Carolina defense needs to come into this game better prepared than the first time these two teams faced off. The Panthers defense has been drastically improved this season but on December 8th, the secondary struggled to contain Marques Colston. Brees connected with Colston nine times for 125 yards and a pair of TD’s. However, the defense did a a good job against Jimmy Graham. He caught a couple of TD’s, but was limited to just six receptions for 58 yards.
Prediction: Saints win, 27-23.
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