The Carolina Panthers close out a very strange season on Sunday in New Orleans, while the Saints also have little to play for but for quite different reasons.
NFL Point Spread and Betting Analysis
Reports are that this will be the last game as Panthers coach for Ron Rivera considering the team’s epic collapse from a 6-2 start when it looked to a be Super Bowl contender. Rivera would have little trouble finding another head coaching job. GM Marty Hurney also could get the boot. Carolina is under new ownership, and, well, when you pay around $2.5 billion (U.S) for something it’s your prerogative to make any changes you want.
New Orleans has wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NFC so it’s likely most key starters play much if at all here. It’s a balancing act somewhat because the Saints already have next week off so you don’t want guys too rusty for the Divisional Round, but you also don’t want to risk injury this week.
These clubs just played on Dec. 17 in Charlotte, which the Saints won 12-9 on an early fourth-quarter 16-yard TD run by Alvin Kamara. The Saints tried for two and it failed miserably – the Panthers returned it for two points of their own. Very curious and bad decision by New Orleans coach Sean Payton in retrospect, but it wouldn’t ultimately matter. For all intents and purposes, that eliminated Carolina from wild-card contention and the team opted to shut down QB Cam Newton for the final two games due to an ailing shoulder.
The underdog has covered eight of the past nine in this series.
Carolina’s implosion continued Sunday in a 24-10 home loss to a bad Atlanta team. With Newton on the sideline, 25-year-old Taylor Heinicke made his first NFL start and was 33-for-53 for 274 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. The only bright spot was Christian McCaffrey continuing his amazing statistical season in rushing for 101 yards and catching 12 passes for 77 yards. He’s the third player in league history to have a 1,000-yard rushing and 100-catch season and has set the NFL record for receptions by a running back with 106. No team in NFL annals has ever started 6-2 and lost its final eight games. Carolina might.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans wrapped up the top seed Sunday with a 31-28 comeback win over Pittsburgh in a fabulous game. Drew Brees hit Michael Thomas on the go-ahead 2-yard touchdown pass with 1:25 left. The Saints had blown a 24-14 third-quarter lead but blanked the Steelers in the fourth. Brees threw for 326 yards and that score. Thomas had 11 catches for 109 yards and leads the NFL in catches. Kamara, who criminally wasn’t named to the Pro Bowl, rushed for two scores. He’s second in the NFL with 18 TDs. New Orleans historically plays much better in a dome than outdoors and now won’t have to play outside again this season because the Super Bowl is in Atlanta (has a retractable roof but most likely won’t be open for the game).