The NFL season is three weeks away from being completed. The playoffs will be just around the corner. The Saints have already clinched a playoff berth and the NFC South title last week with a win over Tampa Bay. Now this week, they will be facing the Carolina Panthers for the first time this season and twice in the last three games of the year. The Panthers are on a five game losing streak after losing late to the new look Cleveland Browns. The Saints got back to their winning ways and are going to be pushing to earn a first round bye and home-field advantage during the postseason.
Carolina leads the all-time series 24-23. Last year, the Saints pulled off a rare feat by defeating the Panthers three times in the same season, the first time in the NFL since 2009. This year should be like no other because we these two teams match up, you can expect a fight until the end almost every time. Terron Armstead will be out once again and his presence has been missed dearly the past two games. The Saints offense has to come out firing tomorrow night to set the tone early. For Carolina, Kawaan Short was doubtful but has been upgraded to questionable so it remains to see if he will be a factor come game time.
Records aside, these teams are pretty evenly matched from a stats perspective. The Panthers are the second best rush offense in the league but the Saints have had the top rush defense for the majority of the year. They will have their hands full with Christian McCaffrey who averages well over 100 yards from scrimmage per game. On the contrary, so will the Carolina defense with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. The Saints can expect the Panthers to try and execute their rush offense early and often. Otherwise, they will have to rely on the injured shoulder of Cam Newton, who has not been playing well during this losing streak, missing on several opportunities which could have won several games.
I will definitely look for the Saints defense to continue their improving ways. Since Week 10, they have only allowed 21 second half points, with 14 of them coming in the game against the Falcons. Dennis Allen has been doing an incredible job of making adjustments and calling the right plays in the right situation. The defensive line is the unit to keep an eye on in this game. Cam Jordan and Sheldon Rankins have been a forceful duo this season and will be on the hunt to put the pressure on Newton at all cost.
Offensively, the Big Easy Train has been on a slow roll the last two games. Michael Thomas continues to break records and be a consistent option for Drew Brees. Nonetheless, the other receivers have to step up in a major way for the Saints to finish on top in the NFC. We do not know for sure if Ted Ginn, Jr. will be returning from injured reserve before the season is over. His speed and veteran presence has been missed dearly since he went out in Week 5. Hopefully Sean Payton has some tricks up his sleeves to get the younger guys involved in the game.
Monday night games are always critical since they are on national television. It becomes even more crucial when they are against a division opponent. And to top it off, it’s on the road late in the season with a lot of things at stake for both squads. This game should be nothing short of spectacular no matter how you look at it. Let’s see what Santa Saint has in store for us come Monday night because I’m hoping it’s an early Christmas victory.