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NFL Wild Card Game Preview: Panthers at Saints

NFL Playoffs Panthers at Saints

Gridiron Experts Staff Wild Card Preview

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints -6.5 | O/U 48.5

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Brad Castronovo   – These teams are no stranger to each other. The Saints knocked off the Panthers in both of their meetings this year, including a 34-13 victory in Charlotte. With that said, this game will be played in New Orleans, where the Saints haven’t lost since September 17th (before Alvin Kamara began his reign of dominance.) While Cam Newton can keep the Panthers in this game singlehandedly, I have concerns about his weapons. The Saints’ defense is vastly improved over last year, and Devin Funchess will likely see a lot of standout Rookie Marshon Lattimore. Therefore, I think a lot of the burden offensively will fall on the shoulders of Newton, a banged up Greg Olsen, and Christian McCaffrey, a rookie playing in his first playoff game. Conversely, the Saints are rich with options offensively. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have formed a backfield that is as effective as any in recent memory, and Michael Thomas continues to assert himself as a rising star at the receiver position. And, as we all know, it’s really hard to beat a team 3 times in a season. I think this game will be the closest of the weekend, but I see the Saints winning this one in a shootout. Pick: Saints

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Andrew Erickson   – The closest game in terms of records by the teams playing in the wild-card round I could see this game going either way. It all really depends on what Cam Newton shows up. Lately, we have not been seeing super Cam, so I am hesitant to chase the Panthers. It is hard to go against New Orleans and Drew Brees at home where they have been 7-1 this year. I will go with the Saints. Pick: Saints

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Michael Hauff  – This Wild Card weekend is saturated with the NFC South and the division will be on full display when the Panthers head to New Orleans to take on the Saints. In their two games played this season, the Saints would win both matchups by a combined score of 65-34. Cam Newton will need to be Superman in this one as the Panthers can’t afford an encore to his 31.5 quarterback rating in week 17. One of the keys to the Saints success has been the defense which has been led by Cameron Jordan and Vonn Bell. On the other side of the ball is their two-headed backfield monster of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram who have combined for 3,094 total yards and 25 touchdowns. Mind you, I never even mentioned Drew Brees. The weapons at Newton’s disposal have been better than in recent memory but there is something special about this New Orleans team. Let’s not forget, to win championships in this league, you need a strong defense and a running game. The Saints finally have both and the success will continue to follow. Pick: Saints

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Jason Willan   – I hate taking the home favorite to cover in all of these games, but here we are. Carolina had a nice home win over Minnesota in December but otherwise hasn’t done much to impress in recent months. The Panthers offense looked bad on Sunday in Atlanta and has produced 10% fewer yards and 15% fewer points away from home this season. The Saints outscored Carolina 65-34 across the teams’ two matchups in 2017 and I’m expecting more of the same this weekend. New Orleans will win this one 34-20. Pick: Saints

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Anthony Cervino   – The Carolina Panthers will travel to the Mercedes Benz Super Dome on Sunday to face the New Orleans in the NFC Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs. This intra-conference matchup will feature two teams that concluded the regular season going in opposite directions. While the Saints were one of the hottest teams to open the year — after going winless in their first two games, the Saints ripped off eight straight wins, finishing 8-2 through the first 10 games of 2017. However, they would stumble in their last six, going 3-3 to close the campaign. For the Panthers, they were a bit more inconsistent to open the year, going 4-3 through their first seven games following a 2-0 start. However, they would be the team of this Wild Card duo to finish the year on a hotter note, going 7-2 in their last nine games. — though both the Panthers and Saints would end up dropping their season finales.

Michael Thomas SaintsWhen it comes to picking a winner in this matchup, it will be a tough call. While one can make an argument that both teams have top five signal callers leading their respective offenses, sound rushing attacks and stout defensive play is what led both of these organizations to 11-5 records in the NFC South, In fact, both the Panthers and Saints finished back-to-back in team rushing yards — Carolina finished 2017 as the fourth-ranked unit with 2,102 yards while New Orleans completed the year at the five spot with 2,070 yards. But it would be the touchdown statistic that separates these two clubs when it comes to rushing dominance. The Saints finished as the top-ranked team in rushing touchdowns with 23 while the Panthers finished the year tied with two other clubs (49ers and Vikings) at the seventh spot with 15 scores on the ground.

Moreover, while both teams were close from a rushing yards perspective when it comes to total offense, the Saints once again showcased their dominance. Closing the year as the No. 2 ranked unit in total offense with 6,259 yards, the Saints finished 17 spots ahead of the Panthers, who were the 19th ranked unit with 5,179 total yards. It is clear that Drew Brees is the difference.
In an NFC South rivalry series which has been dominated by the Saints in their last four games dating back to the start of the 2016 season including two victories over the Panthers in 2017 — New Orleans is 3-1 in that time span — I believe it will be the Saints who win and sweep the Panthers on Sunday. Pick: Saints 31, Panthers 24

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Graham Hackney   – How can I put this subtly – I think the New Orleans Saints are going to win the Super Bowl.
Hmmm, that wasn’t hugely subtle was it, oh well. I like the fact that Michael Thomas has quietly become one of the most productive receivers in the game (he had the third most receptions this year). This has been unceremoniously received because the backfield of Ingram and Kamara have been the best duo in the league, bar none, this year. I trust Drew Brees to do what he does if he is needed to do it, especially considering the wild recent play of his opposing quarterback for this game. Cam Newton was poor against the Falcons in week 17, he has the ability to snap out of that form but I think the Saints are too strong. Pick: Saints

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