Firm control of the NFC South will be on the line as the New Orleans Saints host the streaking Carolina Panthers on Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Drew Brees and the 9-3 Saints are coming off their worst loss of the season, while Cam Newton and Carolina have won eight straight. A win for the Panthers wrangles the division from the Saints and drops them into the Wild Card race with San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Arizona.
Whoever loses Sunday has the chance to even the score when they meet again in Carolina in Week 16.
Though his numbers are down from his first two seasons, Newton has upped his passer rating and accuracy to career-highs, limiting mistakes that had plenty around the league questioning if he could lead Carolina.
Joining Newton is running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. But Williams is barely averaging 40 yards a game since Week Three. Much of the Panthers offense has gone through tight end Greg Olsen and receiver Brandon LaFell, who’ve each scored five touchdowns this season.
The Saints were limited to seven points in the 34-7 blowout last week against Seattle, with Brees totaling a mere 147 passing yards and one touchdown to tight end Jimmy Graham. It was the first time Brees was held under 200 yards passing since 2010.
The Panthers sixth-ranked pass defense could cause just as much trouble for Brees. Carolina just held Tampa Bay to two field goals and 206 total yards in last week’s 27-6 victory. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is tops on the team with 102 tackles, safety Mike Mitchell has recorded four interceptions, and the Panthers are third in the NFC with a plus-10 takeaway ratio.
The New Orleans defense has made a complete turnaround from last year’s squad, but gave up 429 total yards and a season-high 34 points to Seattle. Still, the Saints are eighth in total defense, and fourth against the pass with corners Jabari Greer and Keenan Lewis combining for 20 passes defended.
The Saints will also need more from running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, who combined for 64 total yards against Seattle. Thomas hasn’t scored a touchdown in three straight games, and Sproles two straight.
Betting Odds: New Orleans favored by 3.5 points
Over/Under: 47 points
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Where To Watch Live Online: NBC SNF All Access here
Prediction: New Orleans 24, Carolina 20