Both teams are in interesting emotional and mental places. The Panthers, with nothing to play for, have been playing their best football, beating one playoff team (Minnesota) and knocking another out of the postseason (the New York Giants) over the past two weeks. The Saints, after a 13-0 start, are in the odd position of trying to avoid a three-game losing streak while heading into the playoffs as a No.1 seed. Coach SEAN PAYTON said he will play his starters. For how long is another matter.
Brees' numbers again compare to NFL's elite
Injuries have played a key role for the Panthers. Fourteen starters have missed at least one game - that includes the defensive-tackle spot of MAAKE KEMOEATU, who went out in the preseason. Starters have missed a total of 55 games. Including Kemoeatu, the Panthers have had four players listed as starters at that one defensive tackle position at various times this season (Kemoeatu, NICK HAYDEN, LOUIS LEONARD and HOLLIS THOMAS) because of injury.
First meeting provided lesson for Panthers
Did the Panthers learn anything from the second half of their 30-20 loss against the Saints on Nov.8 in the Superdome? Here's the lesson: Finish what you start. Carolina took a 17-3 lead, but could not hold off New Orleans' high-powered offense. The way the Panthers have played against the Vikings and Giants recently seems to indicate it was a lesson learned. That second half against the Saints might have been the season's tipping point for the Panthers, who were coming off an impressive victory at Arizona, raising their record to 3-4. That momentum seemed to be carrying through against the Saints. Then it went away.
4 Tackles needed by Jon Beason to break his single-season record of 160.
4-3 Record at Bank of America Stadium (they were 8-0 during the regular-season last season).
5 Touchdowns allowed by the defense during the past five games.
6 Times in eight seasons Julius Peppers has had double-figure sacks (10.5 this season).
34 Takeaways, fourth-most in the league.
.603 Sean Payton's winning percentage (38-25), best in franchise history.
7-0 Record on the road.
13 Victories, most in franchise history.
+14 Takeaway-giveaway ratio, third in the NFL.
500: Points scored, most in the NFL.
Scott Fowler observations
Now this is weird. New Orleans (13-2) will be the No.1 playoff seed in the NFC. The Panthers are 7-8 and out of the playoffs. Yet, Carolina is the team that is on fire entering this one and the Saints are cold. If New Orleans loses today, the Saints will enter the playoffs with a three-game losing streak.
Here is an interesting thought: If MATT MOORE had started the entire season, what would Carolina's record be today? Carolina has outscored its past two foes 67-16 and played two remarkably complete games while doing so. It's just too bad that it has happened so late.
I love what Moore has done the past two games, but he will have his hands full when throwing today. Without STEVE SMITH (broken forearm), Moore is going to have to really fire some balls into tight windows, because no other Panthers receiver can regularly get much separation.
New Orleans would be foolish to play Drew Brees much - if at all - today. Expect to see MARK BRUNELL (he's still in the NFL?!) quarterback the Saints.
I've backed myself into a corner on this prediction. A few weeks ago, I wrote that I would not pick Carolina to win again.
Since then, the Panthers have rebounded, and they will have the advantage today of playing at home against a team that will be playing a lot of second-stringers to stay healthy for the playoffs. Still, I'm a man of my word.
NEW ORLEANS 19, CAROLINA 18