2018 NFL Playoffs
NFC Wild Card Game
#5 Carolina Panthers at #4 New Orleans Saints
Sunday, January 7, 2018, 4:40 pm Eastern, TV: Fox
Mercedes-Benz Superdome – New Orleans, Louisiana
Opening Line: New Orleans -6
Current Line: New Orleans -6 1/2 (-115)
Opening Total: 48 1/2
Current Total: 47 1/2
Opening Money Line: Saints -255 / Panthers +215
Current Money Line: Saints -300 / Panthers +250
Both the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers finished with 11-5 records this season. However, the Saints won both meetings against the Panthers by double digits and thus the two teams meet in New Orleans Sunday in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs. The Saints are the #4 seed in the NFC and are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. It is their first division tittle since 2011. The Panthers are the #5 seed and are back in the playoffs after missing last season. The Panthers lost in the Super Bowl after the 2015 season.
The winner between New Orleans and Carolina will travel to the #2 seed Minnesota Vikings next Sunday in the Divisional Playoffs. The #6 seed Atlanta Falcons upset the #3 seed Los Angeles Rams 26-13 last night and will face the #1 seed Philadelphia Eagles next Saturday.
Carolina leads the series 24-22 against New Orleans. The Saints won both meetings this season 34-13 in Charlotte September 24 and 31-21 in New Orleans on December 3. The Saints kept Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton in check in both match-ups as he threw for less than 200 yards in each contest. He also threw three picks in the first meeting. These two long time division rivals have never met in the playoffs before.
Carolina is coached by Ron Rivera. The Panthers have home losses to the New Orleans Saints 34-13 and Philadelphia Eagles 28-23, plus road losses to the Chicago Bears 17-3, Saints 31-21 and Falcons 22-10 last week. Carolina has home wins over the Buffalo Bills 9-3, Falcons 20-17, Miami Dolphins 45-21, Minnesota Vikings 31-24, Green Bay Packers 31-24 and Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22-19, plus road wins over the San Francisco 49ers 23-3, New England Patriots 33-30, Detroit Lions 27-24, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17-3 and New York Jets 35-27. Carolina has won three of the last four games. Carolina was a 5 point underdog against Atlanta, and the total was 44.5. The Panthers are 9-7 ATS and the total is 9-7 this season.
New Orleans is coached by Sean Payton. The Saints have road losses at the Minnesota Vikings 29-19, Los Angeles Rams 26-20, Atlanta Falcons 20-17 and Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-24, plus a home loss to the New England Patriots 36-20. New Orleans went 11-3 after an 0-2 start. New Orleans has a neutral site win over the Miami Dolphins 20-0 in London, plus road wins over the Panthers 34-13, Green Bay Packers 26-17 and Buffalo Bills 47-10. The Saints have home wins over the Detroit Lions 52-38, Chicago Bears 20-12, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30-10 Washington Redskins 34-31 in overtime, Panthers 31-21, New York Jets 31-19 and Falcons 23-13. The Saints were 6 point favorites against the Buccaneers and the total was 49. New Orleans is 9-7 ATS and the total is 9-7 this season.
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Carolina is outscoring teams 23-20 this season. The Panthers are #11 in points allowed and #12 in scoring. Carolina averages 324 yards per game on offense including 192 passing and 131 rushing yards. The Panthers are #4 in rushing but #28 in passing. On defense, Carolina allows 317 yards per game including 229 passing and 88 rushing yards per game. The Panthers are #7 in total defense and #3 in rushing. Carolina is 98/233 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 85/226. The Panthers have forced 50 sacks and allowed 35 this season. Carolina is -1 in turnovers and has allowed 2 defensive touchdowns. The Panthers have 2 special teams and a defensive touchdown.
Quarterback Cam Newton has completed 59% of his passes for 3,302 yards with 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, plus 139 carries for 754 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. He has been sacked 35 times. Newton is probable with a shoulder injury and has also been battling shoulder injuries all season after undergoing shoulder surgery in the off-season last year. Derek Anderson is the back-up but is questionable with an illness. Garrett Gilbert will serve as the back-up if Anderson is unable to go.
Running back Jonathan Stewart has 198 carries for 690 yards and 6 touchdowns, plus 8 catches for 52 yards and a touchdown. He is probable with a back injury. Christian McCaffrey has 117 carries for 435 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus 80 catches for 651 yards and 5 touchdowns. Cameron Artis-Payne will also get a few carries and also has a touchdown run.
Receiver Devin Funchess has 63 catches for 840 yards and 8 touchdowns. He is probable with a shoulder injury. Ed Dickson has 30 catches for 437 yards and a touchdown. Russell Shepard has 17 catches for 202 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Greg Olson has 17 catches for 191 yards and a touchdown. He missed most of the season with a broken foot. Curtis Samuel has 15 catches for 115 yards. Damiere Byrd has 10 catches for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns. Kelvin Benjamin has 32 catches for 475 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was traded to the Buffalo Bills for draft picks. Thirteen defensive players and five offensive linemen are listed on the injury report.
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New Orleans is outscoring teams 28-20 this season. New Orleans is #4 in scoring and #10 in points allowed. The Saints average 391 yards per game on offense including 262 passing and 129 rushing yards. The Saints are in the top five in all three categories. On defense, New Orleans allows 337 yards per game including 225 passing and 112 rushing yards. New Orleans is 85/209 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 91/224. The Saints have forced 42 sacks and allowed 20 this season. New Orleans is +7 in turnovers. The Saints have scored four defensive touchdowns and a special teams touchdown. New Orleans has also allowed three special teams/ defensive touchdowns.
Quarterback Drew Brees has completed 72% of his passes for 4,334 yards with 23 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, along with 33 carries for 12 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has been sacked 20 times. Chase Daniel is the back-up but the 38 year old Brees has taken every snap.
Running back Mark Ingram has 230 carries for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, along with 58 catches for 416 yards. Alvin Kamara has 120 carries for 728 yards and 8 touchdowns, plus 81 catches for 826 yards and 5 touchdowns. Fullback John Kuhn could return from a torn bicep but it is unlikely.
Receiver Michael Thomas has 104 catches for 1,245 yards and 5 touchdowns. He is probable with a hamstring injury. Ted Ginn, Jr. has 53 catches for 787 yards and 4 touchdowns. Brandon Coleman has 23 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns. Josh Hill and Tommylee Lewis will also get some catches. Hill is probable with an ankle injury. Tight end Coby Fleener has 22 catches for 295 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is out for the season with a concussion. Fourteen defensive players and four offensive linemen are on the injury report for the Saints.
The over is 6-1 in this series recently including 4-0 in New Orleans. The road team is 23-10 ATS in the series and the underdog is 6-1 ATS recently. The Saints have covered the last six games against the Panthers, and are 4-1 ATS at home against Carolina.
The Panthers didn’t seem that interested in winning last week against the Falcons. That is strange because they could have earned a division title along with a home playoff game. Yes, they needed help from the Buccaneers to do it, but they had a chance. That is neither here nor there as they didn’t win against the Falcons. New Orleans is really not a good match-up for Carolina, especially in the very loud Superdome. The conventional wisdom is it is difficult to beat a team three times in one season. However, under the current playoff format, teams that swept a divisional rival are 13-7 against that team in the playoffs. I like New Orleans to win but it will be closer than the other two match-ups this season.