They say that third time’s the charm and that’s exactly what the Carolina Panthers will be hoping as they head into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to take on the New Orleans Saints for the third time this season (4:40 PM ET Sunday on FOX).
There’s no denying that the Saints have had the Panthers’ number this year. The NFC South’s champ defeated their rivals in both previous meetings and did so by double-digits both times. Neither game was particularly close throughout either.
And while it may seem hard to imagine one team winning three straight over another, all within the context of one season, playoff history tells us it’s not that rare an occurrence. In fact, ever since the 1970 merger, teams that faced each other twice in the regular season have gone on to face each other again in the postseason, 21 times. Of those, the team that swept the regular season meeting is 13-7 and 4-2 since 2002 saw the NFL’s divisional realignment take place.
Most of the particulars will be the same in this one. Cam Newton and Drew Brees will still be the signal callers. Sean Peyton and Ron Rivera will still be handling head coaching duties. In some ways, it’s hard to imagine a different outcome this time but that’s the reason the games are played.
Winning Turnover Battle
This may seem like an obvious statement: In the NFL, most of the time the team that wins the turnover battle is the one that emerges victorious. Given the way the series between the two teams went this year, this isn’t a battle that Carolina can afford to lose. It all starts with Cam Newton being able to keep his stat sheet clean.
In the first meeting of the teams this season, Newton threw three interceptions, each one more costly than the last. In the second meeting, the Panthers limited the turnovers to one, a fumble by Kaelin Clay. But the Saints were applying pressure all game long, forcing three fumbles even if only one was lost. The same was the case in the first meeting, as Newton fumbled the ball twice, but the Panthers were able to recover both times.
New Orleans meanwhile, handled the ball exceptionally well, committing just one turnover over the course of the two games. Drew Brees was Newton’s polar opposite, throwing for four touchdowns and nearly 500 yards against Carolina’s stout defense. He was sacked just three times over the course of the two games, compared to the six times that the Saints’ defense took down Newton.
Simply put, the Panthers’ struggles to hold onto the ball have been costly not just against the Saints but all season. Newton threw for just 22 touchdowns on the year compared to 16 interceptions. It’s the most interceptions by Newton since his rookie year.
Ordinarily one of the league’s most dominant defenses when it comes to takeaways, the Panthers defenses ranked just 16th this year with 21 (10 interceptions and 11 fumbles). New Orleans meanwhile was tied for 9th with 25, 20 of which were interceptions that came from a newly developed ball-hawking secondary.
In the past, when these two teams met, Carolina always had the defensive advantage compared to New Orleans having the offensive advantage. This year however, the Saints have closed the gap and in some ways even surpassed Carolina defensively and that’s not something that bodes well for the Panthers.
Dominating through Air and Ground
Ever since the Brees era began in New Orleans, the Saints have continually been one of the league’s top passing offenses and this year was no different. The team finished fifth in the league and second in the NFC, in total passing yards (4,189) and passing yards per game (261.8).
Where the Saints set themselves apart however was in the run game, where they also ranked fifth in total rushing yards (2,070) and rushing yards per game (129.4).
No other team finished in the top-5 in both rushing and passing, which is the likely reason why the Saints ranked as the NFL’s second best overall offense and tops in the NFC. The Saints totaled 6,259 yards and 391.2 yards per game, finishing just shy of the New England Patriots in both categories.
New Orleans was one of two teams, the other being the Pittsburgh Steelers, to place both a quarterback and a running back in the top-5, with Brees finishing fourth among passers and Mark Ingram finishing fifth among rushers. Ingram isn’t the only ground threat that the Saints have as secondary rusher. Alvin Kamara is in the top-25 in yards with 728. This standing has the Saints as the only team to have two players in the top-25 of total rushing yards.
Additionally, the Saints rank fourth in points per game, scoring an average of 28, and to throw in a defensive stat, rank tenth in that category as well, allowing opposing offenses just 20.4 points per game.
Our Preview’s Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Picks & Betting Predictions
Simply put, the Saints are really good. They can beat you on the ground. They can beat you through the air. They can beat you with turnovers. They can beat you defensively. They can just beat you, which is something they’ve already done to the Panthers twice. You can maybe see where we are going with the game’s predictions and picks.
Yes, beating any team three times in a row is difficult but Carolina didn’t show anything in those two contests that suggests that they’ve figured New Orleans out. This is not the Saints team of just a few years ago even, the one that the Panthers firmly had their number. New Orleans is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and the team taking the field on Sunday will be looking to make sure this run doesn’t come to an early conclusion.
- For those reasons, and in a bid to damage the USA sports betting websites this weekend, our preview’s pick is to take the Saints to cover the 6.5 or 7 points they are favored, as the home team surges to another double-digit victory over their divisional rivals. So the best betting option is Saints -6.5pts @ best betting odds of -112 with Bookmaker.
- Look for the over on the total points of 47.5pts @ -110 odds with Bookmaker, MyBookie or BetOnline. At the heart of the Saints’ success, it is still offense that runs the team.
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.