As the Saints come out of the media storm that accompanied Antonio Brown’s workout, they continue to focus on their upcoming and familiar opponent the Carolina Panthers. The Saints won their Week 12 matchup in a close one 34-31 which took a little luck on a few missed kicks by Carolina.
This time around, even Vegas is expecting a different result based on the 13/13.5-point spread in New Orleans’ favor. There are some significant differences this time around.
The Saints and Panthers will both be missing key players in this one. The Saints will be without half of their starting secondary with Eli Apple, Marcus Williams, and Vonn Bell out. Meanwhile, Carolina will be without D.J. Moore Moore is their top receiver who abused the New Orleans secondary for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns on 6 catches.
These losses are significant for both teams as without Moore, the Panthers offense will almost entirely run through Christian McCaffrey with Will Grier under center and Curtis Samuel as the top receiver. For New Orleans, losing Eli Apple is lightened by the recent addition of fellow former Giant Janoris Jenkins who should see the start opposite Pro Bowl corner Marshon Lattimore. Expect to see PJ Williams and CJ Gardner-Johnson reprise their roles at safety though DJ Swearinger might see some action as well.
The Panthers will also be without LB Shaq Thompson which would be inconvenient for them if Alvin Kamara has gotten back to form as it he showed evidence of last week.
Saints FB Zach Line is questionable along with Panthers rookie edge rusher Brian Burns.
New Orleans should see returns from other key players like Larry Warford, Kiko Alonso, and potentially Andrus Peat depending on what the Saints do with him and Nick Easton.
New Orleans heavily outweighs Carolina looking over their recent weeks. Over the last six games New Orleans has scored 35.3 points per game while Carolina has surrendered just over 34 over their last five.
Conversely, Carolina struggled mightily scoring only 6 points against a Colts defense New Orleans blew out 34-7. With a rookie at starting QB and an interim head coach, the team just looked dejected.
One of the elements of the game that has allowed New Orleans to excel on the offensive side of the ball is their red zone TD percentage. Over the last three games the Saints have converted over 81% of their redzone possessions for touchdowns. This while Carolina’s defense has allowed scores on 62.5% of their opponents’ trips to scoring distance over that same stretch.
One of the more intriguing matchups to watch will be the Panthers’ defense va. Michael Thomas. Interestingly enough Carolina has given up the second most receptions and fourth most receiving yards to WRs this season. Despite that, they have only allowed 12 touchdowns to the position. Look for Michael Thomas to continue to get his catches and extend his already outstanding receptions record, but he may struggle a bit to find the endzone.
Scoring should not be an issue for the Saints offense though as the Panthers have given up 25 touchdowns and 1,909 yards rushing to running backs. Both of those totals are most in the league. A good sign as Alvin Kamara looks to keep rolling and Latavius Murray likely looks to get ahead of the playoff swing.
For New Orleans, although this is a Week 17 game, it is still a must win. The Saints are still in spitting distance of a top-two seed and bye week in the NFC. They will need to win this matchup in Carolina and get some help with a Green Bay and/or San Francisco loss to do that.
Winning this contest in Carolina is the only means New Orleans has of controlling its destiny and surely the NFC South rival Panthers would not mind playing spoiler.