The New Orleans Saints will look to stay hot and improve their playoff position as they finish the regular season with a road game against the struggling Carolina Panthers. Game time is scheduled for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 29 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Fans in various parts of the southeast will be able to watch the game on Fox.
Current betting odds have the Saints favored by 13 points on the road with an over/under of 47.5 points. Click here to check out a full list of the Week 17 betting odds.
It’s been hard to stand out in the NFC this season, but the Saints might be starting to assert themselves. Since a puzzling loss to the Falcons in the middle of the season, New Orleans has won five of their last six games, losing only to the 49ers in that 2-point thriller. Following that loss, the Saints have dominated the Colts and earned a 10-point road win over the Titans last week, beating a pair of teams fighting for their playoff lives.
Of course, the Saints still need a little bit of help if they want to get next week off. With a loss by either the Packers or 49ers this week, the Saints will earn a first-round bye if they win this week. If both teams lose, a New Orleans win would catapult the Saints to the top seed in the NFC for the second straight year.
Meanwhile, Sunday marks a merciful end to a forgettable season for the Panthers. The 2019 campaign saw Carolina lose their franchise quarterback to a season-ending injury after two weeks, ultimately leading to longtime head coach Ron Rivera getting fired. With the search for a new head coach underway and Newton’s status going forward uncertain, the Panthers have an important offseason ahead of them.
On the field, the Panthers are in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. Somehow, things are getting worse every week. Last time out, the Panthers were humiliated 38-6 by the Colts. Three of Carolina’s last six games have come by a lopsided margin. Last week’s game makes it seem like the Panthers have given up on the season.
Perhaps a Week 17 rivalry game will help motivate Carolina for their season finale, especially at home. In fact, the Panthers beat the Saints in Week 17 last season, albeit with the Saints already locking up home-field advantage. On the other hand, New Orleans has been victorious in five of their last six meetings with the Panthers. That includes a competitive 34-31 win for the Saints in the Superdome last month.
Admittedly, this is a lot of points to swallow in a rivalry game, especially for a road favorite. However, laying down the points here is akin to the Perfect Storm. New Orleans is both motivated to win and playing at a high level in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the Panthers have been awful in recent weeks and have nothing to play for at this point in the season. They don’t even have a full-time head coach. I think the Saints will keep their foot on the gas in hopes of getting next week off, leading to a lopsided win that covers the spread.
Offensively, there might be no better team in the NFL than New Orleans right now. Drew Brees is playing at an elite level, Michael Thomas looks unstoppable, and even Alvin Kamara is starting to hit his stride after a strong showing last week against Tennessee. The Saints are averaging 35 points per game over their last six games and have scored at least 34 points in all but one of those games.
Meanwhile, the opposite is happening to the Carolina defense. The Panthers have given up a minimum of 29 points and an average of 33 points over their last six games. They’re getting shredded on the ground, even against teams like the Falcons that aren’t that good at running the ball. When these teams met last month, the Saints only needed 18 running plays to amass 118 yards on the ground while Brees threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a similar storyline play out this week.
On the other side of the ball, rookie quarterback Will Grier didn’t provide the spark the Panthers were hoping for last week. Over half of his completions were check downs to Christian McCaffrey with the Panthers showing no downfield passing game whatsoever. Grier also threw three interceptions and was sacked five times. Even with McCaffrey getting 28 touches and accounting for 173 total yards, the Carolina offense still failed to find the end zone. Grier will get another chance this week, although there was little reason for optimism after last week’s game. He and the Panthers will also be facing a New Orleans defense with a far more talented pass rush, so things could get ugly if the Panthers fall behind.
In the end, I don’t see the Panthers being able to slow down Brees and the New Orleans offense. I also don’t think Grier will have much success keeping pace. After the Panthers managed two field goals in last week’s game, I don’t have high hopes for Carolina scoring many points this week. That makes me think the Saints will win by a wide margin on the road and be able to cover the spread.