Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Free NFC Wild Card Pick - Betting Odds
Carolina blew a chance to win the NFC South with a 22-10 loss at Atlanta last Sunday. New Orleans backed into the championship with a 31-24 loss at Tampa Bay last week. The Saints swept the season series winning 34-13 at Carolina in Week 3 and 31-21 at home in Week 13.
The Panthers rely heavily on QB Cam Newton to propel their offense. He led the team in rushing (754 yards) and tied for the team lead with 6 rushing TDs. However, he had a very mediocre 22-16 TD/INT ratio and threw 3 picks last week. He didn’t perform well against the Saints either in the 2 matchups (72.1 passer rating, 350 passing yards, 2-3 TD-INT and he was sacked 6 times). He had some big games in 2017 but several poor ones, so it is hard to gauge which Newton will show up this week. WR Devin Funchess had a hot streak after the trade of WR Kelvin Benjamin but faded down the stretch. TE Greg Olsen only played in 7 games due to a broken foot and was limited in several others. Rookie RB Christian McCaffrey led the team with 80 receptions and is dangerous in the open field. New Orleans’ pass defense was greatly improved in 2017, allowing 224.8 ypg (273.8 in ’16) and they also totaled 42 sacks led by DE Cameron Jordan’s 13. They gave up 22 TD passes but picked off 20 passes, a great ratio. Newton was sacked 35 times this season. The running game, sans Newton, wasn’t very good. McCaffrey and RB Jonathan Stewart averaged 3.7 and 3.4 ypc respectively and neither player could consistently produce on the ground. The Saints allowed 111.7 ypg and 4.4 ypc but were efficient in limiting Carolina this year.
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Another year and another completion percentage record for NO QB Drew Brees (72%), the 3rd time in his career that he has set the mark. He threw only 23 TD passes this year but was greatly aided by a strong running attack. WR Michael Thomas didn’t suffer a sophomore slump and finished 10-1,245-5. He also set the NFL record with 196 catches through his first 2 seasons. Ex-Panther Ted Ginn also chipped in with 53 catches for 787 yards. RBs Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara combined for 139 catches, 1,242 yards and 5 TD catches giving Brees several options in the passing game. He also threw 4 TD passes with no picks in the 2 earlier encounters. The Panthers pass defense gave up 229.1 ypg through the air and allowed 25 TD passes to only 10 interceptions. A revitalized DE Julius Peppers tied for the team lead in sacks with 11 and is still a force rushing the passer with DE Mario Addison (11 sacks) on the other side. Brees was sacked just 20 times in 2017. Ingram led the team with 1,124 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs. Kamara gained 728 yards (6.1 ypc) and scored 8 TDs. This duo became the first to both go over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and they tallied 26 total TDs. Carolina allowed only 88.1 rushing ypg and 4.0 ypc but they’ll have their hands full defending these 2 players while also guarding against the pass.
In this weekends NFC Wild Card game between Carolina and New Orleans have the public slightly thinking that the Saints will pull off this win at home and cover the 6.5 point spread with a mere 52%. The over/under bettors are also minimally confident this game will go over the posted total of 48.5 with against just 52% on board.
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Prediction
A good team rarely beats another good team 3 times in a season but I like the Saints this week. Brees has been a reliable starter throughout his career while Newton has had a very peaks and valleys career up to now. His performance was bad last week as was his 2 outings vs. New Orleans this year. Brees no longer has to do everything himself and the ground game is a real weapon. The Panthers don’t have a lot of weapons on offense but a healthy Olsen (check status) would greatly aid their cause. SS Vonn Bell would likely be assigned to Olsen and he can’t let the veteran get off to a fast start. Overall, the Saints pass defense is no longer a pushover and rookie CB Marshon Lattimore (5 picks) has been a very positive addition. The points are a little high for a division rivalry but I like the Saints to pick up their first playoff win since 2013 and get the cover at home.