The final game of the NFL’s Wild Card weekend pits two divisional foes against each other – the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints. These NFC South rivals will battle it out with the victor moving on in the playoffs and the loser spending all offseason thinking about revenge. This is the first home playoff game for the Saints in 5 years, and it will surely be an exciting matchup between two formidable rivals. Kickoff inside the Superdome is at 4:40 PM ET.
Sunday’s Wild Card matchup will be the 47th time these two teams have played each other. The Panthers hold a slight advantage with an all-time record of 24-22 against the Saints. New Orleans is 11-12 all-time against the Panthers at home. However, the Saints have won the last 2 games in New Orleans and they have swept the Panthers during the 2017 regular season by a combined score of 65-34.
The Panthers (11-5) finished 5-3 on the road this season and come into this matchup looking to prevent the Saints from getting the “hat trick” on them. Carolina will need Cam Newton’s best performance of the season to defeat the Saints at home. Will Super Cam come to the rescue?
The Saints (11-5) had a fantastic 7-1 home record and haven’t lost a home playoff game since the early 90’s. New Orleans has been Super Cam’s kryptonite this season as they’ve forced Cam and the Panthers to 6 turnovers in two games. Can they force a few more this weekend?
The spread opened with the Saints favored by 4. It currently sits at -7 for the Saints. The Over/Under opened at 49 points and has gone down slightly to 48.5 total points.
This game will feature the NFL’s #2 offense (Saints) against the league’s #7 defense (Panthers). So far, in 2017, the offense has won this battle. However, it has been New Orleans defense that really made the difference in these contests.
As mentioned, New Orleans did force 6 Carolina turnovers in 2 games this season. They also held Carolina to just 17.5 ppg, which is below their mark of 22.7 ppg on the season. With all of the focus on the Panthers defense, I believe that the Saints defense is being overlooked and they will definitely leave their impression on this game. Particularly, the Saints had 20 picks on the season, which was good for 3rd in the NFL. They finished with 25 total takeaways and they have a great opportunity to put pressure on Cam this weekend and get a few more turnovers.
Now, let’s get back to the main-event battle: Saints offense vs Panthers defense. New Orleans finished the regular season as the #2 ranked offense with 391.2 net total ypg. They were 5th in net passing (261.8 ypg) and 5th in net rushing yards (129.4 ypg). They also finished 4th in scoring at 28 ppg. They’re the only offense to finish in the Top 5 for all of these major categories. And, they feature the league’s top running back tandem in Kamara and Ingram.
In the Saints 11 wins, they rushed for over 151 ypg. In their 5 losses, they rushed for only 81.2 ypg. Ingram (1,124 yards) and Kamara (728 yards) totaled 1,852 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground this season. They were deadly out of the backfield as well with Ingram (58 rec, 416 yds) and Kamara (81 rec, 826 yds) totaling 139 receptions for 1,242 yards and 5 touchdowns. In total, the duo put nearly 3,100 yards and 25 touchdowns on offense. Let’s not forget that Kamara also has a return touchdown on the year. For the Panthers to have a chance this weekend, they will need to stop this duo.
Carolina finished as the #3 ranked rush defense in the league, allowing just 88 ypg. They held opposing teams to under 100 rushing yards in more than half of their games this season. Unfortunately, the Panthers didn’t do a good job in the two games against the Saints this year as they gave up 148.5 rushing ypg, 114.5 receiving ypg, and 2 touchdowns per game to the Saints backfield duo.
And if that wasn’t enough for Carolina to contend with, Saints receiver Michael Thomas had 12 receptions for 157 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Panthers this year. He also finished the season with 104 rec, 1,245 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Carolina had the 18th ranked pass defense this year and could only muster up 10 picks on the season. Brees picked apart the Panthers this year as he threw for an average of 489 yards, 4 touchdowns and 0 turnovers in their two games. Carolina did finish with 50 sacks on the year and they will need this pressure to have any hope this weekend.
The more you look at these numbers, the more you wonder how the Panthers will have a chance at winning this game. But, I tell you fine readers that it’s hard for any team to beat a divisional rival 3 times in one season. And, the Panthers have Super Cam.
Newton finished the year accounting for 78.3% of the Panthers offensive output. He led the team in rushing with 754 yards and contributed 6 touchdowns on the ground. That’s in addition to his 22 passing touchdowns and 3,302 passing yards. However, Newton did struggle throwing interceptions this year. Of his 16 picks on the season, he threw 3 of them against the Saints. Newton will need to play like he did against the Dolphins this year (254 passing yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 69 rushing yards) for the Panthers to have a chance.
In Cam’s defense, his poor performance against the Saints came in Week 3 when he was still shaking the rust off his injured shoulder. In Week 13, Cam dramatically improved as he threw for 183 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, and 51 rushing yards. I believe Cam will improve on these numbers and be the reason why Carolina covers this spread. They might not win the game, but they will keep it within a touchdown and have a shot late in the game for the victory. However, I do like the Saints at home with that powerful offense to beat the Panthers 30-27.
Carolina is 6-3 ATS in their last 9 games, 7-3 ATS in their last 10 road games, 10-4 ATS as an Underdog over the last 3 years, and 12-5 ATS in their last 17 games at New Orleans. The Saints are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 games. The Underdog is 6-1 ATS in their last 7 head-to-head meetings.