NFL Game of the Week: Panthers vs. Saints
The top two teams face off in the NFL’s best division in Week 13 as the Carolina Panthers travel to New Orleans to face off against the Saints.
These division rivals matchup for the final time in the regular season, as Carolina and New Orleans already played in Week 3, with the Saints dominating the Panthers, 34-13. Drew Brees threw for 220 yards and three touchdowns, while Cam Newton struggled with three picks.
Carolina is coming into Week 13 with a record of 8-3 after beating the Jets 35-27 last week. The Panthers have now won four games in a row after starting the season 4-3 and are tied with New Orleans for first place in the NFC South.
Cam Newton struggled last week as he only completed 11 passes, but he was able to rush for 28 yards and a touchdown. Christian McCaffrey added 97 yards and Jonathan Stewart had one rushing touchdown.
New Orleans is coming off their first loss in a while after they had won eight games in a row after starting the season off at 0-2. The Saints lost a close game to the Rams last week 26-20 in a battle of two of the top teams in the NFC.
Drew Brees threw for 246 yards and one touchdown, while Alvin Kamara was outstanding again for the Saints. Kamara had 188 total yards and two touchdowns.
This game could end up being the deciding factor in who wins the NFC South and gets a home playoff game.
Panthers’ Offense vs. Saints’ Defense
The Panthers offense runs on the legs and arms of quarterback Cam Newton. Newton, who was the 2015 NFL MVP, has been up-and-down this season. Newton is middle of the pack when it comes to passing yards and touchdowns. Even though he has struggled with consistency, it is possible that we could see the old Newton at any point.
Carolina has essentially a three-running back system with backs Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey along with Newton. Stewart leads the team with 486 yards, but Newton has the most rushing touchdowns with five. McCaffrey, a rookie, is Carolina’s most dynamic weapon as he leads the team with 59 receptions.
Ever since the Saints started off 0-2, the defense has undergone one of the biggest turnarounds in the NFL this season. New Orleans is now 15th in the league in yards allowed per game after starting the season among the league’s worst.
The best player on New Orleans’ defense is Cameron Jordan. Jordan, NFL Defensive Player of the Month for November, ranks sixth in the league with 10 sacks and has also knocked down seven passes.
The secondary has made the greatest improvement from last season to this year. Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore has been outstanding for New Orleans this season as he is considered a favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Although he missed last week, Lattimore is expected to return against Carolina this week.
Saints’ Offense vs. Panthers’ Defense
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees is still the engine behind the Saints offense. Brees ranks third in the league in passing yards with 3,029 while he is completely a staggering 71.3% of his passes.
Brees has plenty of weapons at his disposal including running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara along with top receiver Michael Thomas. Ingram is currently fifth in the league in rushing with 837 yards and eight touchdowns. Thomas has been Brees’ top target all season as he leads the team with 70 receptions, which are also good for fourth in the league.
The most dynamic weapon on the Saints’ offense however is Kamara. The third round pick out of Tennessee has been a pleasant surprise for New Orleans this season. He has run 546 yards and caught 54 passes good for 548 yards. The dynamic back also has nine touchdowns on the season. Carolina will need to stop Kamara in order to win this game.
The Panthers’ defense has been one of the best in the league this season. Carolina is currently ranked second in the league, only allowing 288 yards per game. The Panthers rank sixth in passing defense and third against the run, arguably making them one of the best defensive units in the NFC.
The leader for the Panther defense is All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, who in no surprise leads the team in tackles with 80. Along with Thomas Davis, who has 56 tackles on the season, the Panthers have one of the best linebacker duo’s in the league.
Carolina has two great pass rushers in Mario Addison and Julius Peppers. Addison has 7.5 sacks while Peppers has sacked the opposing quarterback 8.5 times. A fault of this Panther defense has been their lack to pick the opposing quarterback off as they only have five interceptions on the season.
This game could be the deciding factor in who wins the NFC South. With New Orleans winning the first matchup, this is a must win for Carolina in order to have a chance at winning the division. If the playoffs started today, these two teams would face off in the Wild Card round.
ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Saints a 70.6 percent chance to win this game. Since this game is in New Orleans and we really don’t know which version of Cam Newton we are going to get, I think the Saints win a competitive game and take control of the division.
Prediction: New Orleans 27, Carolina 17
Camden Tofil is a freshman majoring in advertising/public relations. To contact him, email email@example.com.