With their chances fading of overtaking the (6-4) Atlanta Falcons as the best team in the NFC South, the (4-5) New Orleans Saints travel to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte to take on another team with falling playoff hopes, the (3-6) Carolina Panthers (8.25pm ET, Thursday on NFLN).
Settling down to write this preview and thinking about my concluding betting predictions and picks for this game, the first thing that struck me was what a difference a year makes. This time 12 months ago the Panthers were the NFL’s lone undefeated team after picking up wins over the Saints, the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers and more. They were hands down the most dominant team in the NFL and considering they would go on to finish their season 15-1, it was dominance that was far from being overstated.
The Panthers went all the way to the Super Bowl where they ran into the buzz saw that was Von Miller and the Denver Broncos’ defense. Carolina never really felt comfortable in that game and lost in a pretty lopsided 24-10 final score. But they made it there and a lot of people thought with all of their key playmakers returning in 2016, they would make it there again.
Instead what this season has shown us is a Panthers team that is just barely keeping its head above water. Only for the grace of being in the NFC South, is Carolina even still able to say their playoff hopes still hang by the tiniest of threads. But even then, they find themselves 2.5 games back of the division leading Falcons with only a handful left to play. Simply put, if the Panthers have any chance of getting back to the Super Bowl as slim as it may be, they absolutely have to win this Thursday night game against the Saints.
And speaking of those Saints, they came literally an extra point away from possibly beating the Broncos last week. Leading with just over one minute left on the clock thanks to a touchdown from wide receiver Brandin Cooks (pictured), it was a missed extra point that Denver’s Will Parks returned to the house for two, that ultimately led to New Orleans picking up an incredibly tough loss.
Beating the Broncos would have gone a long way not only to help the Saints’ confidence but also to suggest that maybe the South was winnable after all. With Atlanta losing on the road to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Saints would have pulled themselves within one game of their rivals with the chance to tie atop the division if they could win this. Instead the Saints are just looking to keep pace and certainly keeping their eye to the season finale against Atlanta.
Both the Saints and Panthers will be playing on short rest, but given how last week’s results went, the blocked extra point for New Orleans and a blown 17-3 fourth quarter lead for the Panthers against the Kansas City Chiefs, getting back on the field so quickly could be a good thing. No doubt both teams will be looking to get back to winning ways the sooner the better.
Looking back to the first matchup between these two teams, quite simply, it was a barnburner. New Orleans ultimately got the win, something that could play into the teams’ favor if the Panthers do somehow manage to come back and vie for the division, but it was a hard fought game on both ends. The final score was 41-38 with Drew Brees putting in his most dazzling performance this year, recording 465 yards through the air and four touchdowns.
Will Brees be able to put up those kind of numbers again, this time against a healthier Carolina defense? Possibly. But even if he doesn’t, the Saints own defense has gotten better and could hold off Caroline enough that Brees doesn’t have to play out of his mind. The same goes for the quarterback on the other side of the ball, Cam Newton. Unable to play the way he likes last meeting due to it being his first game back from a concussion, Newton got the run going last week and carried the ball a season high 12 times for 54 yards and a touchdown. He had just two carries, a season low, the last time the two teams met.
If Newton can run the ball like he did against the Chiefs, the Saints could be in some trouble as their defense allows 107.9 yards per game on the ground, among the worst in the NFL. It’s the same defense that allowed Panthers’ running back Jonathan Stewart to record 85 yards and two touchdowns in that first week six game.
Our Preview’s New Orleans Saints vs Carolina Panthers Picks & Betting Predictions
A couple of contradictory factors are at play when coming to work out this preview’s betting predictions and picks. The Panthers are at home, so edge Carolina. The Saints are 3-0 playing on Thursday nights the last three years, so edge New Orleans.
Honestly, given how explosive both offenses can be and how close their last meeting was, this really is anybody’s guess which one comes out on top. One of the biggest matchups that could decide the result is the one between Newton and Saints defensive end Cam Jordan. This was a matchup that despite the loss, largely went Newton’s way in the first meeting, but Jordan is coming off his best performance of the year and the Saints are convinced their defense is better than it was that first meeting.
If Carolina’s Cam gets good pass protection, which has been a real issue this year, look for the Panthers to come out on top in what should be another classic NFC South shootout. If not, then New Orleans’ own Cam might be able to pad his stats and force Newton to throw when he is uncomfortable. As this season has shown, Newton is much less of a top quarterback when he’s not in control.
- Carolina is favored around 3 points on the spread but I do like the Saints in this one, win or lose, to topple that margin. So bet on New Orleans Saints +3pts @ +110 betting odds with either Bookmaker or BetOnline sportsbooks. I am slightly tempting fate, because the alternative is to steal another half point for worse odds as Bovada go +3.5pts for -120. Maybe I am being a touch greedy, so would not put you off the latter option if you prefer.
- As for the total pints to be scored this Thursday night, it’s lofty as I thought it would be, at 52pts. The Saints alone almost scored this the first time this two played this year so feel pretty confident taking the over in this one as well. Take the over 52pts @ -110 with Bookmaker Sportsbook. It is -112 for the same spread with BetOnline, but Bovada go over 52.5pts for -110.
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.