While the New Orleans Saints were rattling off eight straight wins, the Carolina Panthers quietly were keeping pace in the NFC South. The rivals meet in New Orleans on Sunday with the division lead hanging in the balance in a matchup between the Saints’ powerful offense and Carolina’s staunch defense.
Carolina pulled even in the division race with last week’s 35-27 road win over the New York Jets coupled with the Saints’ 26-20 road defeat against the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints routed the Panthers 34-13 in Charlotte in Week 3 to begin their two-month winning streak. New Orleans dominated for most of that stretch before narrowly escaping with a 34-31 overtime win over Washington and losing to the Rams in consecutive weeks. Carolina was reeling following a 17-3 loss at Chicago in Week 7 but has won four straight since.
TV: 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Saints -4.5. O/U: 48
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (8-3): Carolina’s defense has been dominant all around, but the secondary has shown some cracks of late, allowing 302 passing yards to Atlanta in Week 9 and 282 to the Jets. Getting the ground game going again has helped get the offense back on track after a midseason lull, as Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart lead the league’s No. 5 rushing offense. Rookie Christian McCaffrey plays a key role in the offense, and Devin Funchess has become Newton’s go-to receiver with Kelvin Benjamin traded to Buffalo and tight end Greg Olsen plagued by injuries.
ABOUT THE SAINTS (8-3): New Orleans’ offense is as prolific as ever and ranks second in the league. Quarterback Drew Brees still is putting up big numbers through the air – he ranks third in the NFL with 3,029 passing yards – but running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are providing balance to the once pass-happy attack. The defense had held five opponents under 300 total yards during its eight-game winning streak, but the team has surrendered 871 total yards over the last two weeks.
1. Kamara leads the league in scrimmage yards (777) since Week 7, and his seven touchdowns are tied for the most in the NFL during that span.
2. Brees has averaged 313 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in his last four meetings with the Panthers.
3. McCaffrey has 59 receptions, the most among rookies and second-most among running backs.
PREDICTION: Saints 27, Panthers 24