The bottom two teams in the NFC South — yes, you read that right — play Sunday in Charlotte.
The Panthers are deserving of their bottom-feeder status. They are four games in the win column behind everyone else in the overachieving NFC South division, with only one victory to show for what is rapidly becoming a lost season.
The Saints, however, are a surprising third after winning the Super Bowl last season. At 5-3, they trail both Atlanta and Tampa Bay by a mere half-game, and are coming off a big-time 20-10 win over Pittsburgh Sunday night.
That victory was propelled by the Saints’ defense, which had a great goal line stand and should have a lot of opportunities for big plays this week. Carolina’s anemic offense is last in the NFL by almost all statistical measures, including points.
Keys for the Panthers
• Believe they can win. That’s a hard thing to do for a team that’s 1-6, but Carolina traditionally plays New Orleans well (having won seven of past 10 vs. the Saints and losing only by two points earlier this season).
• They need production from their rookie wide receivers. David Gettis and Brandon LaFell are playing a lot and have been all-or-nothing lately. They had more than 200 yards combined two weeks ago in a win over San Francisco, then did hardly anything last week. They have to emerge, because you know New Orleans will always keep an eye on Steve Smith.
Keys for the Saints
• Don’t let Carolina hang around. Although the Panthers are having a terrible season, they generally play New Orleans well (Coach John Fox is 11-6 vs. the Saints). The Panthers came within a few yards of getting off a possible game-winning field-goal attempt in their 16-14 loss to the Saints earlier this season. Best course for Saints: Get at least a 10-point lead and watch the Panthers’ pass offense implode.
• Make Matt Moore uncomfortable. The Panthers’ quarterback is 5-2 as a starter at home but had all kinds of problems last week in Carolina’s 20-10 loss at St. Louis. Moore has a tendency to lock onto receivers and has already been yanked for rookie Jimmy Clausen once this season.
The Saints continue to have all sorts of injury problems at running back and will travel in this game primarily through Drew Brees’ golden arm. That’s not a bad way to go, though — certainly better than anything the undermanned Panthers have going for them. Saints 23-12.