No division in the NFL is going to be as tightly contested in this final stretch of games than the NFC South, which features three teams all within one game of each other.
Two of those teams, the (8-3) Carolina Panthers and (8-3) New Orleans Saints, will meet this Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with first place in the NFC South on the line (4:25 PM ET).
One Streak Ends, Another Gains Momentum
For the Saints, the 2017 season opened with one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. They opened on the road against the Minnesota Vikings and then faced the defending Super Bowl champions at home. Both of these games resulted in losses and once again, it looked like New Orleans was going to end the season with disappointment.
What followed was an eight-game winning streak, that started with a victory over the Panthers in week three of the season. During that stretch, the Saints swept through games against the NFC North as well as wins over the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins. The streak came to an end last week, when the Saints traveled to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in a showdown of division leaders. LA emerged victorious in a close contest.
During this eight-game stretch, the second longest winning streak in the league, the Saints averaged almost 33 points per game. The team scored 30 or more points in five of the eight and never scored below 20 in a single contest.
Even in losses this year, the Saints have scored no lower than 19 points and have shown themselves to be one of the more formidable offenses in the league. For long-time Saints fans this should come as no surprise as the team, in the Drew Brees’ era, has always been one of the best offenses in football. Their success has been dependent on it really, because defensively, New Orleans has never been known as stout. That being said, during the streak, the Saints allowed opponents 20+ points in only three of the eight games.
Now that the streak has come to an end, attention turns to the Panthers, who are riding a four-game winning streak of their own.
Carolina opened their season in direct opposition to the Saints, as they won they first two games, allowing the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills a total of just six points. Their first loss of the season came against the Saints but was followed up by a win over the Patriots. Carolina went back and forth on wins and losses until they defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That began the four-game winning streak over the Atlanta Falcons, Dolphins and New York Jets. Unlike New Orleans, Carolina’s winning streak is active.
Interestingly enough, the Panthers’ streak wasn’t marked just by defensive prowess but rather an outburst of offense as well. In the four games, Carolina has averaged just over 29 points per game while allowing just 16.5. As they have shown, the Panthers are a very tough team to beat when they are running on all cylinders both offensively and defensively. They will pose a real challenge to the Saints on Sunday.
Carolina vs. New Orleans Stats Of Note
- The favored team has won 18 of the last 24 games in this head-to-head (the Saints are 5 point favorites).
- Carolina has won 17 of their last 21 December games.
- In the previous six meetings between the two teams, the total has gone to the over five times.
- New Orleans is 6-3 ATS in their last nine games.
Our Preview’s Panthers vs. Saints Betting Picks & Predictions
The Saints and Panthers have split their season series in three of the past four years. However, the way New Orleans looked in that first game was crisp and dominant. The Saints scored 34 points in that effort behind three TD passes from Brees. Defensively, they all looked the part, absolutely owning Cam Newton to the tune of three interceptions and four sacks. Only one other time this season was Newton punished like that and it was against the NFL’s best team, the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles.
A lot of the Panthers’ success depends on which version of Newton shows up on any given week. At his best, Newton has led Carolina to eight wins and when he has scored at least two touchdowns, the Panthers are 4-1. They have been victorious in each of the five games in which Newton has recorded a QB rating of 80 or better. On the contrast however, when Newton has been less than his best, Carolina has faltered along with him. The Panthers are just 3-3 in games in which Newton has thrown at least one pick and just 3-2 in games when Newton has been sacked at least three times.
As mentioned in this preview, in the first meeting between the two teams, it was the bad version of Newton that showed up. To New Orleans’ credit however, it is also possible the team finally found a way to plan for Carolina’s dual-threat quarterback. Whatever the case, if the Newton of week three is the one who shows up this Sunday, it could be a long day for the Panthers.
Look for the Saints to bring their fourth best offense in the league, to play on Sunday afternoon even if their third-best rushing attack will have to contend with the NFL’s best defense when it comes to stopping the run. At home, New Orleans will come away with another victory, and will be in the driver’s seat to win the NFC South and get back to the postseason.
- For the first of the betting predictions, the Saints are 5-point favorites with most of the best sportsbooks. So our preview’s pick is to take the Saints -4.5pts @ odds of -118 with BetOnline.
- These two teams almost always play to high-scoring affairs and with the division possibly on the line, this week should be no different. For the total points wager, most firms are 48 or 48.5pts. Once again BetOnline has the best odds, go over 48pts @ -108 with that firm.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.