You may laugh when you read this, but the game between the Carolina Panthers (3-4) and the New Orleans Saints (7-0) is huge… I mean neither team can afford a loss Sunday afternoon.
I know it’s hard to believe, considering where the two teams are right now, but think about it for one second: The Panthers have won three of their last four games and could gain ground or possibly pull even with Atlanta (who is in second place in the NFC South) with a win against the Saints. That would keep their slimmer-than-slim playoff hopes alive.
By the way, betcha didn’t know Carolina has won seven straight games in New Orleans.
As for the Saints, it would be easy to assume that they could afford to lose a game or two, but nothing is further from the truth.
Yeah, they have a three-game lead in the NFC South, but the Saints have their sights set on being the No. 1 team in the conference, which comes with home field advantage throughout the postseason. Right now the Minnesota Vikings, who have one loss, are hot on their heels for the top spot.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the two teams.
Defensively both squads have good reasons to pound their chests.
Carolina has the No. 1 pass defense and ranks seventh overall in total yards given up per game. Add to that a very active defensive front with lineman Hollis Thomas acting as the run stopper and Julius “hot tamale” Peppers – who has been on fire lately – getting his hands on quarterbacks on a more regular basis and ranking sixth in the league in sacks.
Last week in Arizona the Panther defense created havoc with six turnovers, including five picks (one returned for a touchdown) – two by rookie safety Sherrod Martin.
The Saints, on the other hand, may not be as complete from top to bottom, but they know how to make big plays. Not only do they lead the NFL in interceptions, but in their last game against Atlanta they returned their fifth pick this season for a touchdown (3 interceptions overall in the game).
Offensively, it’s a no brainer that the Panthers offense begins and ends with the running game. Over the last three games DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are averaging 207 yards collectively.
Passing? Well, everyone knows there have been challenges in this area all season.
Without rehashing the details, let’s just say Carolina found a happy medium in their last game – Jake Delhomme had an efficient 90 yards and one touchdown on only 14 attempts, but more importantly he had no turnovers.
Interestingly, though, Delhomme – who is from Bayou area – has been a thorn in the side of the hometown Saints. He’s 5-0 lifetime in New Orleans and last year completed 70 percent of his passes for 250 yards and one touchdown in a 33-31 win.
The Saints are averaging 43 points in their last 3 games (leading the league overall) and are No. 1 in total yards per game with nearly 430. Quarterback Drew Brees is simply a machine, passing for 2006 yards (68 percent completion rate), 16 touchdowns and only six picks.
On the ground New Orleans has a committee of running backs, and while no one is the star, the results are pretty good for fourth in the NFL – just ahead of the Panthers.
Ok, so after all of that, who wins?
This is the first team Carolina has played this year that has its whole act together, and that will prove to be the difference… New Orleans 38 – 28.
Damon Ford is a public relations professional who has worked in the public and private sectors in Charlotte. He is 3-4 in predicting Panthers games.