The Panthers have rolled through their first 11 games. Six of those wins, including the last three, have been by double digits. They only need to win one of their five remaining games in order to clinch the NFC South Division title.
The Saints appeared to have picked themselves off the mat by evening their record at 4-4. Then they face-planted in the next three games. The chances of reaching the playoffs are at laughably low levels at this point.
Carolina leads the overall series 22-19. For games played in New Orleans, the Panthers hold an advantage of 10-9. Carolina has won five of the seven previous match-ups.
Carolina at New Orleans
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Carolina -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Grounding the Saints' rushing attack
Carolina has held opponents to fewer than 150 rushing yards in all but one game. In seven of 10 games, the Panthers have held their foes to below 100 yards on the ground. A possible cause for concern is the absences of Nate Chandler, Arthur Miley, Frank Alexander and Wes Horton from the defensive line.
The Saints have struggled to maintain balance on offense. In only two games they have gained more than 150 yards on the ground. They have rushed for less than 100 yards in six games; five of those were defeats.
If Carolina maintains its dominance in opposing rushing attacks this Sunday while the Saints continue their meager efforts in running the ball, Carolina will suffocate New Orleans' offense.
2. Re-igniting the Panthers' passing attack
Carolina has been held under 200 passing yards in six games. The Panthers have only surpassed the 300 passing yard mark in one game this season. Fortunately for the Panthers, they face that same opponent this week.
The Saints' defense has been very generous in terms of allowing opponents to throw the ball. Six opponents passed for more than 300 yards in a game against the Saints. Only one foe failed to gain at least 200 yards through the air.
Part of the explanation for the Saints' weakness is that two cornerbacks, P.J. Williams and Keenan Lewis, and a safety, Rafael Bush, are on injured reserve. Another CB, Damian Swann, is listed as questionable for Sunday.
3. Kickoff time an advantage for the Saints?
New Orleans has hosted five opponents so far, winning three of those. When the Saints have started their home games this season after the usual noon kickoff, they have won both. Might the Who Dat Nation show more enthusiasm for this game with its late afternoon start time? Could that translate into deafening noise to disrupt the Panthers on offense? The Saints upset the Falcons in October and ended that divisional rival's unbeaten streak. Are the Saints inspired to play spoiler once again?
Carolina has had extra days of rest and recovery since its last game played on Thanksgiving Day. Last week, the Saints looked as lethargic as diners who had just engorged themselves at a Thanksgiving meal. That occurred in spite of having their bye-week before traveling to Houston. The Panthers are hotly pursuing the top seed in the NFC playoffs and a possibly perfect season. The Saints are already making post-season plans; those do not include the playoffs.
Prediction: Panthers 41, Saints 13
- Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.