CAROLINA PANTHERS (11-5)
at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (11-5)
Superdome Ė New Orleans, LA
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Line: New Orleans -6.5, Total: 49.0
The Saints host the Panthers in a Sunday afternoon Wild Card matchup between two teams that are a lot better than their playoff seeds indicate.
Itís not often that a Wild Card matchup features two teams that finished the season at 11-5, but thatís exactly what this game will have. Both the Panthers and the Saints had remarkable regular seasons, and they now face one another with the opportunity to advance to the next round of a loaded NFC bracket. Itís hard to say that either team deserves to be the favorite in this game, but New Orleans is going to be giving just under a touchdown to Carolina in this one. And pretty much all of that has to do with the fact that the Saints are going to be playing this game at home. The Superdome is one of the toughest places to win in the entire league, so expect an insane atmosphere when these teams take the field here. Itís also definitely worth noting that these teams already met in New Orleans this season. The Saints won that game 31-21 as six-point home favorites, and they are now 2-1 SU and 3-0 ATS when facing the Panthers in New Orleans over the past three seasons. Favoring Carolina in this game is the fact that the team is 19-3 ATS following a road loss under head coach Ron Rivera. New Orleans, however, is also an impressive 26-12 ATS when coming off of a road loss under head coach Sean Payton. Something will have to give here, but this will definitely be a fun game to watch with both QB Cam Newton and QB Drew Brees guiding their teams in a must-win contest.
Only a few years ago, the Panthers were the NFCís most dominant team and lost in the Super Bowl. It was a game that probably gives QB Cam Newton nightmares, but Newton is now back in the playoffs and has a chance to change the narrative on his playoff career. This Carolina team definitely has what it takes to make a run this year, but itís not going to be easy to beat this Saints team. Newton is going to need to really play a perfect game in order to get Carolina into the next round. That means that heíll need to avoid turnovers, but also use both his arm and legs to make plays. It canít be a game where he only shows up in one aspect of the game. Newton needs to throw the ball accurately, but he also needs to take off when there is open field in front of him. Carolina has been careful with him as a runner at times, but itís win-or-go home now. When Newton goes to the air, he wonít have a shortage of options to find. RB Christian McCaffrey is one of the leagueís best receivers at the running back position. Newton also has WR Devin Funchess and TE Greg Olsen out there. Funchess really stepped his game up this year, emerging as the top receiver that many people thought he had the potential to become when he first went to Michigan. Olsen, meanwhile, is the security blanket for Newton. He is a great route-runner and will do everything he can to make life easy on Newton. Defensively, the Panthers better be ready to defend the run here. The Saints surprisingly have one of the leagueís best rushing attacks.
As previously mentioned, the Saints are now a run-first football team. RBs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara each proved that they are stars in this league in 2017, and theyíll hope that continues in 2018. Ingram is a classic running back, doing the majority of his work between the tackles. Heís extremely hard to bring down, but he is also elusive enough to make defenders miss on occasion. Kamara, meanwhile, can make defenders miss whenever he wants. He is footballís most explosive player, as he can break free as a pass-catcher or an outside runner. Kamara is definitely the x-factor in this game, as the Saints will definitely win if the Panthers donít have an answer for him. QB Drew Brees, meanwhile, is still here and capable of making any throw in the book. He has definitely taken a backseat to the running game this year, but that doesnít mean heís lost it. If the Saints need him to have a big passing game then he wonít hesitate to air it out. He can either find Kamara for the easy pass out of the backfield or heíll look to WR Michael Thomas all over the field. Thomas is one of the gameís more underrated players and could easily have a big game on Sunday. As for New Orleansí defense, the Panthers are a tough matchup. The Saints must know where McCaffrey is at all times, but they also need to have a spy on Newton. If they donít then heíll run all over them here.