The Carolina Panthers are facing a must-win situation as they play host to the New Orleans Saints in Week 15. The two NFC South rivals will kick off at 8:15 EST on Monday, December 17, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.
According to the Week 15 NFL odds, the Saints are 6.5-point favorites on the road. That line has come down slightly after New Orleans began the week as 7-point favorites. The over/under for the game is set at 52 points.
The Panthers are in the midst of a late-season collapse. Carolina has lost their last five games, taking them from 6-2 and a virtual lock for the playoffs to 6-7. If it matters, four of those five losses have come on the road. However, only two of the losses came against teams with winning records, so Carolina has failed to take care of business against lesser teams.
As it stands, the Panthers are only half a game behind the Vikings for the final wild-card spot in the NFC. However, there are four other teams all within a game of Minnesota, so competition will be fierce the final three weeks of the season with just one spot available. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they still have to play the Saints twice in the final three weeks, giving them the toughest schedule of any team in the NFC wild-card race.
As for the Saints, they bounced back from their loss to the Cowboys with a comfortable road win at Tampa Bay last week. They are now 11-2 and have already clinched the NFC South title. They also caught a break when the Rams lost last week. That opened the door for New Orleans to earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they can win their remaining games. Thus, the Saints won’t be taking their foot off the gas late in the year.
Monday’s game marks the end of a three-game road trip for the Saints. It’s also their final road game of the season. New Orleans will host the Steelers and Panthers the final two weeks of the season. Those games won’t be easy, but if the Saints can leave Carolina with a win on Monday, they’ll be in good shape to win out and secure home games throughout the NFC playoffs.
Somehow, this is the first game between these two division rivals this season. The Saints won all three meetings between the teams last year, including a playoff game. Carolina has been waiting a long time to get another chance to face the Saints, and it comes at a time when they are desperate for a win.
I’ve given the Panthers the benefit of the doubt a lot during their five-game winning streak. But I’ve officially lost faith in them. To be fair, their last four losses have all come by a touchdown or less, so they aren’t getting blown out in games. But this week they’re facing the Saints, not the Lions, Bucs, or Browns. New Orleans is arguably the best team in the league, and they won’t go easy on Carolina. I like the Saints to win by at least a touchdown and cover the spread.
Let’s be honest, something isn’t right with Cam Newton. His shoulder is nowhere close to 100%. Not only is Newton missing practice time, which obviously doesn’t help, but the Panthers have no downfield passing attack. Right now, running plays and short passes to Christian McCaffrey more or less define Carolina’s offense, making them rather easy to defend. Newton has also thrown eight interceptions during this five-game losing streak, which is another problem for the Panthers at the moment.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans defense is coming on strong the second half of the season, much like they did last year. In their last five games, the Saints are conceding an average of 13 points per game. When you factor in how limited Carolina’s offense is at the moment, the Saints are set up for another strong defensive performance.
There’s also the small matter of the Panthers stopping the New Orleans offense. For what it’s worth, Drew Brees has been held in check the last three weeks. He’s averaging just 166 yards per game and has thrown three interceptions during that span. However, that game against the Cowboys is still the only time the Saints have been held under 20 points this season, so it’s not as if the New Orleans offense has been stifled completely. They still have a strong rushing attack and several elite playmakers.
More importantly, there are some serious concerns about the Carolina defense right now. They’ve conceded at least 20 points in seven straight games. During their five-game losing streak, they’ve been victimized by big plays time and time again. The Browns, a team with a rookie quarterback and rookie running back, had three plays of 50 yards or more against Carolina last week. Meanwhile, Brees and the Saints specialize in creating big plays, which is another problem the Panthers will have to deal with Monday night.
Obviously, this line is a little big for a game between division rivals, especially with the Panthers so desperate for a win. But Carolina is not the same team they were early in the season. The Panthers are filled with flaws just waiting to be exposed by an elite team like the Saints. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the Saints to win this game by at least a touchdown and cover.