New Orleans Saints (11-4) vs. Carolina Panthers (5-10)
Sunday, Jan. 3, 3:25 p.m.
TV: FOX WVUE 8
Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM
First round playoff bye still in play
The New Orleans Saints take on the Carolina Panthers this weekend in their final matchup of the regular season. While they secured the NFC South title in an electrifying performance on Christmas afternoon, there is still a lot to play for in the finale. The Saints can still clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a first-round playoff bye with a win over the Panthers, a Seattle Seahawks win over the San Francisco 49ers, and a Green Bay Packers loss to the Chicago Bears this weekend. With a win, they’ll also become the first NFC South team to secure a season sweep of all of their division rivals. Most important, they can take another step forward as they prepare for the postseason.
New Orleans dominated Minnesota 52-33 last week in a game that saw the Saints win the time of possession battle 36:47 to 23:13. Running back Alvin Kamara had a game for the ages as he carried 22 times for 155 yards (7.0 avg.) and six touchdowns and added three receptions for 17 yards. Kamara’s six rushing TDs tied an NFL single-game record, done once before by the Chicago Cardinals’ Ernie Nevers on Nov. 28, 1929.
The Saints offensive line routinely opened holes in the running game and kept QB Drew Brees clean by not allowing a sack when passing. The Black & Gold’s signal caller completed 19-of-26 passes (73.1%) for 311 yards hooking up with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (four receptions, 83 yards) and tight end Jared Cook (three catches, 82 yards).
With Sean Payton’s offense in the spotlight, the defense played complimentary ball, keeping the Vikings on the sideline by stopping their run game, pressuring the QB and winning the turnover battle.
The Saints will look to keep building their momentum in Charlotte Sunday afternoon before moving on to the Playoffs. The Panthers have won just a third of their games this year and have lost eight of their last nine, but New Orleans can’t take Carolina lightly. The Panthers haven’t given up on their season. Last week on the road, Carolina prevented the Washington Football Team from clinching the NFC East with a 20-13 win.
After a late rally, the Panthers lost 27-24 to the Saints in New Orleans in their first meeting of the season in October. There’s no doubt they feel like they can compete with the division winner and would like to stick it to the Saints as they go into the offseason.
At the Line of Scrimmage
Here’s a snapshot of how the teams match up based on their average points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards per game and where they rank in the NFL.
When the Saints have the ball
PPG TYPG PYPG RYPG
Saints Offense 29.9 (4) 378.4 (9) 237.8 (19) 140.6 (7)
Panthers Defense 24.6 (18) 360.9 (18) 242.3 (17) 118.7 (16)
When the Panthers have the ball
PPG TYPG PYPG RYPG
Panthers Offense 22.9 (23) 351.5 (20) 242.8 (17) 108.7 (21)
Saints Defense 22.0 (8) 310.3 (3) 215.1 (5) 95.2 (4)
Goal to Geaux
Carolina is playing for pride and would like to strike a positive chord going into the offseason by knocking off the division champs. Unfortunately for them, the Panthers’ lingering injuries – especially to running back Christian McCaffrey – have made them an average or lower team in all of the major offensive and defensive statistical categories.
The Saints will try to get out of this one with minimal injury risk. Expect a balanced offensive attack as Brees continues to establish rhythm and timing with his receivers as they head into the Playoffs.
Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 15
- The New Orleans Saints have won the NFC South title for the fourth consecutive season and won at least 11 games in four consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.
- Quarterback Drew Brees became the first player in NFL history to surpass 80,000 passing yards.
- In less than four seasons, running back Alvin Kamara is second in franchise record books with 59 total touchdowns in his career. On Christmas, he surpassed Mark Ingram and Deuce McAllister’s 55. Kamara needs 14 more touchdowns to surpass Marques Colston’s 72.
Quotes of the Week
“It was good to get back in and kind of get it turned around in the win column. We knew going in obviously, that we just needed a win, to get the division and but there’s more at stake. I think it’s important, we’re playing well, this time of the year.” – Saints head coach Sean Payton on the impact of the Saints’ win over the Vikings
“Crazy. You know, the O-line did a great job. I didn’t really have to do too much. Man, those guys did a great job and the receivers did a great job setting the edge and coming across and doing the dirty work. Man, it just feels good to have one of those days, just for the team, just for offensive morale. So, like I said, I always say this, I’m not focused on personal goals and yards and stuff like that, as long as the team’s having success, then personal success will come.” – Saints running back Alvin Kamara on scoring six rushing touchdowns against the Vikings
“We knew what was at stake. Christmas Day game, in our stadium, in front of our fans, really in front of the world, right, and an opportunity to win the division tonight. And we did all those things.” – Saints quarterback Drew Brees on the team’s outlook for the remainder of the season
Inside the NFC South
W L T Win % PF PA DIV
New Orleans Saints 11 4 0 0.733 449 330 5-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 5 0 0.667 448 328 3-2
Carolina Panthers 5 10 0 0.333 343 369 1-4
Atlanta Falcons 4 11 0 0.267 369 370 1-4
Atlanta Falcons (4-11) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5)
Tampa is trying to climb as high as they can in the NFC Playoff race. If they finish with the No. 5 seed, they’d travel to whichever team wins the NFC East – arguably the worst team in the postseason. The Bucs beat Detroit 47-7 last week in a game where QB Tom Brady didn’t play in the second half because his team was so far ahead.
Atlanta is hoping they don’t end up in the conference cellar, but things look like the Falcons are already looking forward to next year. This team has talent at skill positions, but is thin elsewhere. A 4-12 record should position them to improve via the draft.
NFC Playoff Picture
Below are the NFC standings through Week 16. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams–four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.
Seed Team Division W L T
1 Packers – y North 12 3 0
2 Saints – y South 11 4 0
3 Seahawks – y West 11 4 0
4 Washington East 6 9 0
5 Buccaneers – x South 10 5 0
6 Rams West 9 6 0
7 Bears North 8 7 0
8 Cardinals West 8 7 0
9 Cowboys East 6 9 0
10 Vikings – e North 6 9 0
11 49ers – e West 6 9 0
12 Lions – e North 5 10 0
13 Giants East 5 10 0
14 Panthers – e South 5 10 0
15 Eagles – e East 4 10 1
16 Falcons – e South 4 11 0
z – Clinched home field advantage
y – Clinched division title
x – Clinched playoff birth
e – Eliminated
The Extra Point: Enjoy what remains of 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has seemed to make the passage of time slow to a crawl. But as the 2020 NFL season comes to a close on Sunday, the past 17 weeks have seemed to fly by in a flash.
It wasn’t the year any of us expected, but Saints fans should revel in what remains of this season because next year may be a bit uncomfortable.
While he hasn’t officially announced it, we will likely witness quarterback Drew Brees’ final games in a Saints uniform. Brees has one year remaining on his contract, but after missing eight games over the last two seasons and already having agreed to join NBC Sports as a football analyst when he is done playing, all signs point to this being his last season. A new era is on the horizon for the Black & Gold.
That begs the question of what the future holds for this team. Will head coach Sean Payton go with either of the two QBs currently on the roster – Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston – to replace Brees? Or with the talent already on the roster will general manager Mickey Loomis look to work out a deal with one of a number of high profile quarterbacks looking for a new start with a new team? There are several bug names that could be available this offseason – Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Andy Dalton, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tyrod Taylor, Josh Rosen – and wearing black and gold next season.
Since they first teamed up in New Orleans head coach Sean Payton and Brees have transformed the franchise. There’s no more proof of that than the Vince Lombardi Trophy on display in the lobby of the team’s headquarters.
If this is Brees’ last season, it’s a shame he didn’t get to experience the “retirement tour.” It sure would have been interesting to see how opposing teams – especially those within the division – would have marked the occasion of seeing him one last time.
Over the past two seasons, it’s grown more apparent that Father Time is gaining on Brees. But the magic isn’t over yet. If the Saints can add another Tiffany & Co.-made trophy to their display case, it will be the perfect send off for the greatest Saint to ever wear the uniform.