New Orleans Saints (10-4) @ Carolina Panthers (10-4) 12/22- 1:00PM EST
Line: CAR -3.0
For the New Orleans Saints this Sunday, it’s simple… win and they will not only clinch the NFC South, but also the conference’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
Problem is, they are not a very good road team, so if they lose the same exact scenario awaits Carolina in Week 17, but this time it will be the Panthers who will have the advantage at home as they will try to avenge their 31-13 blowout loss to the Saints at the Superdome back on December 8th.
But, for the Saints (10-4), they were not able to capitalize the following week in St. Louis when they committed three turnovers and fell behind by 24 points and lost 27-16, which knocked them back out of the driver’s seat.
The bigger problem is New Orleans is just a bad road team, where they have lost its fourth in five road games and that spells trouble for them come playoff time if they have to open on the road.
“We know what we are playing for—we’re playing for the divisional championship and the two seed so it doesn’t get any bigger then that for us,” quarterback Drew Brees said. 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.”
With that said, Sunday’s contest may be a make or break game for them, as the Panthers now have the momentum following a 30-20 home win over the New York Jets, but coach Ron Rivera admits his team may have been doing some scoreboard watching.
“ A few too many times, to be honest with you,” Rivera said. “I did get distracted a couple of times. .. I did hear the crowd cheer and when I looked up they showed the (Saints’) score, so that caught my attention.”
The Panthers (10-4) with a win will clinch the South and the NFC’s second seed with a win next week at lowly Atlanta or the Saints losing to Tampa Bay in Week 17.
If New Orleans can pull off the mild upset, they will lock up the No. 2 seed and will be able to rest some starters for the season-finale. For the Panthers, a loss would be damaging as they would need some help with losses by Arizona and San Francisco. The Cardinals hold the tie-breaker with Carolina by virtue of win over them.
Drew Brees lit up the Panthers back in New Orleans with 313 yards and four touchdowns, where he has a 122.5 passer rating, but on the road it’s a different story with a 86.3 passer rating with just a 63.4 completion percentage with seven picks.
Those numbers add up to 32.9 points scored at home compared to 18.4 on the road… 27th in the NFL.
“This is not a ‘show up on Sunday and play’ sport,” tackle Zach Strief said. “So when you go on the field and put that on tape and play like we have on the road it’s absolutely concerning.”
With Carolina winning nine of their last ten games and having won six straight at home by an average of 18.7 points, coupled with the Saints road woes, we can see why the oddsmakers have made the Panthers a (minus -3.0) point favorite come Sunday, but remember to get the latest spread on the game up until kickoff right here at Wonder Punter.
Look for Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to bounce back after a sub-par performance at the Superdome and for Carolina to establish a running game where they have averaged 178.5 yards rushing.
In the end, I too like the Panthers to play a complete game and take it to the Saints and when asked if New Orleans was the better team after taking the first meeting, Newton had this to say….
“Are they better then us? No.”
A little extra incentive for the Saints now? Maybe, but I predict the Panthers winning big on Sunday to continue their home dominance and strengthen their playoff position.
By Mario Martinez- Wonder Punter