Saints 13

(10-5, 3-5 away)

Panthers 17

(11-4, 7-1 home)

Coverage: FOX

1:00 PM ET, December 22, 2013

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC 

1 2 3 4 T
NO 0 6 0 713
CAR 0 7 3 717

Top Performers

Passing: D. Brees (NO) - 281 YDS, 1 TD, 2 INT

Rushing: M. Ingram (NO) - 13 CAR, 83 YDS

Receiving: J. Graham (NO) - 5 REC, 73 YDS, 1 TD

Saints-Panthers Preview


It's a pretty straightforward scenario for the New Orleans Saints this week: win and they'll not only clinch the NFC South, but also the conference's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

If they lose, the exact same circumstances will await the Carolina Panthers in Week 17.

After New Orleans' latest road stumble, the second showdown in three weeks between the Saints and Panthers on Sunday in Charlotte will guarantee a playoff spot for the winner while likely dealing the loser a precarious path in the postseason.

New Orleans (10-4) took control of the South with a 31-13 rout of Carolina (10-4) at the Superdome on Dec. 8, but its margin for error took a massive hit a week later in St. Louis.

A Saints win over the Rams would have allowed them to stay in the driver's seat even with a loss at Carolina due to a superior conference record. But after New Orleans committed three turnovers and fell behind by 24 points en route to a 27-16 loss -- its fourth in five road games -- this visit to Carolina may make or break its season.

"We know what we're playing for -- we're playing for the divisional championship and the two seed so it doesn't get any bigger or better than that," quarterback Drew Brees said. "It is going to be a challenge for us. Obviously we understand our deficiencies on the road here the last couple of trips. It is great motivation for us to really hammer down this week, find ways to improve and get better."

While the Saints were coming up empty in St. Louis, Carolina bounced back at home with a 30-20 win over the New York Jets. Coach Ron Rivera, though, admits he got a bit caught up in checking the out-of-town scoreboard.

"A few too many times, to be honest with you," Rivera said. "I did get distracted a couple of times. ... I did hear the crowd cheer and when I looked up they showed the (Saints') score, so that caught my attention."

Carolina will win the South and the conference's second seed with a victory Sunday and a win at Atlanta or a New Orleans loss to Tampa Bay in Week 17. Should the Saints win, they'll be able to rest some starters in their finale with the No. 2 seed locked up.

A loss could be especially damaging for the Panthers. Carolina could still clinch a playoff berth with losses by Arizona and San Francisco, but it also could find itself in trouble should it head to Week 17 tied with the 9-5 Cardinals due to its head-to-head loss.

Brees threw for 313 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers two weeks ago, bringing his totals at home to an NFC-best 23 TDs, an NFL-best 73.2 completion percentage and a 122.5 passer rating.

On the road, Brees completes just 63.4 percent for an average of 6.94 yards per attempt, nearly two fewer than at home, with an 86.3 QB rating and seven of his 10 interceptions.

Perhaps it's not surprising then that the Saints average 32.9 points at the Superdome and 18.4 on the road -- 27th in the league.

"This is not a 'show up on Sunday and play' sport," tackle Zach Strief said. "So, when you go on the field and put that on tape and play like we have on the road it's absolutely concerning."

Strief will have a new partner at tackle in Carolina. Left tackle Charles Brown was benched in St. Louis after committing a key penalty and playing a part in Brees being sacked four times, so the Saints will give rookie Terron Armstead the job of protecting Brees' blindside against a Panthers defense that leads the NFC with 45 sacks.

That's not the only change after the debacle against the Rams. New Orleans released kicker Garrett Hartley after two misses in St. Louis and signed veteran Shayne Graham.

"These aren't decisions you make for effect," coach Sean Payton said. "You don't do that. At least we don't."

Carolina's only loss in its last 10 games came at the Superdome, and it has been especially dominant at home. The Panthers have won six straight there by an average of 18.7 points.

Cam Newton was sacked five times at New Orleans and an NFL-high 28 on the road, but he's been sacked just 10 times in seven home games.

Like Brees, big plays have been a much more common occurrence for Newton at home. He's averaged 8.36 yards per attempt in Charlotte with 12 plays of 25-plus yards. He has only one in his past three road games while throwing for 4.84 yards per pass.

Newton has averaged 9.35 yards per attempt, hit five plays of 25 or more and accounted for five total touchdowns while going 1-1 at home against New Orleans.

He ran for 71 against the Saints last season at home, and it won't be a surprise to see Carolina attack New Orleans on the ground. The Panthers have averaged 178.5 yards rushing -- 5.7 per carry -- in their past 10 games against the Saints, but only ran 13 times after the first quarter in the first meeting.

"It was a great measuring stick for who we are and where we have to go," Newton said after the Dec. 8 loss. "The best thing about this is we have an opportunity to face this team again in two weeks (at Carolina). Those guys just were better than us today.

"Are they better than us? No."


Passing Leaders

D. Brees65.964730
C. Newton59.639921

Rushing Leaders

M. Ingram14694.90
A. Peterson14443.10
J. Stewart331053.20
C. McCaffrey21572.70

Receiving Leaders

M. Thomas1013413.40
B. Coleman69515.81
K. Benjamin710214.60
D. Funchess68814.70

Team Averages & NFL Ranks

Total YardsNO
Yards PassingNO
Yards RushingNO
Yards AllowedNO
Pass Yds AllowedNO
Rush Yds AllowedNO

Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)

Carolina leads 14-12
Dec 8, 2013NO 31, CAR 13
Dec 30, 2012NO 38, CAR 44
Sep 16, 2012NO 27, @CAR 35
Jan 1, 2012NO 45, CAR 17
Oct 9, 2011NO 30, @CAR 27
Nov 7, 2010NO 34, @CAR 3
Oct 3, 2010NO 16, CAR 14
Jan 3, 2010NO 10, @CAR 23
Nov 8, 2009NO 30, CAR 20
Dec 28, 2008NO 31, CAR 33
Oct 19, 2008NO 7, @CAR 30
Nov 25, 2007NO 31, @CAR 6
Oct 7, 2007NO 13, CAR 16
Dec 31, 2006NO 21, CAR 31
Oct 1, 2006NO 18, @CAR 21
Dec 18, 2005NO 10, CAR 27
Sep 11, 2005NO 23, @CAR 20
Jan 2, 2005NO 21, @CAR 18
Dec 5, 2004NO 21, CAR 32
Oct 26, 2003NO 20, CAR 23
Oct 5, 2003NO 13, @CAR 19
Dec 29, 2002NO 6, CAR 10
Nov 10, 2002NO 34, @CAR 24
Dec 2, 2001NO 27, CAR 23
Oct 14, 2001NO 27, @CAR 25

Research Notes

The Saints released Garrett Hartley Tuesday. Hartley had the 4th most points in franchise history.
Cam Newton's interception on the Panthers' first drive Sunday was his 3rd red-zone interception this season, tied for the most in the NFL.
Cam Newton is 4-5 for 57 yards on 1st down in the first half, but 1-4 for 4 yards with an interception and a sack after 1st down.
Jimmy Graham caught his 10th red-zone touchdown this season in the 4th quarter Sunday, tied with Dez Bryant for the most in the NFL.
Drew Brees was sacked five times in the first half Sunday against the Panthers. Brees' previous season high for sacks in a game was four (three times).
New Orleans fails to score an offensive TD in the 1st half of consecutive games for 1st time since 2010 (Weeks 7 and 8).
The Panthers went 0-of-9 on third down Sunday, becoming the first team to win without a third down conversion since the 2011 Panthers (Week 16 vs TB). Newton was 1-of-5 passing with three sacks on third down Sunday.
Drew Brees was sacked six times and put under duress an additional nine times Sunday. Brees hadn't taken more than four sacks in a game this season, and the 15 dropbacks under pressure were his second most in a game this season. Brees failed to replicate his Week 14 success against Carolina's four-man rush.
Cam Newton went 3-of-5 on the Panthers' final drive, passing for 65 yards. Entering the drive the Panthers had gained just 60 total yards in the second half.

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