But that doesn’t mean their showdown isn’t one of the must-watch games of the week.
Throw Cam Newton across from the Saints defense and Drew Brees against any defense, and the result of those combinations is guaranteed to produce a barn burner. Expect nothing less than a shootout between two of the NFL’s most scorching teams led by two of the NFL’s most scorching QBs.
Here’s everything you need to know about this Week 17 matchup.
Will New Orleans cover the spread?
When: Sunday, Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. ET
Listen: Sirius XM Radio: 93 or online at Audio Pass
Betting Line: New Orleans -5, according to Bovada
What’s at Stake?
Nothing is at stake for the Panthers and Saints.
You, however, could miss the most entertaining game of the week if you choose to go out and throw snow balls for three hours instead.
Panthers Injury Report (via ESPN, as of Dec. 25)
Jonathan Stewart (ankle), RB, Questionable
Saints Injury Report (via ESPN, as of Dec. 25)
Jimmy Graham (wrist), TE, Probable
Chris Ivory (hamstring), RB, Questionable
Fantasy Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em and Sleeper
Start: DeAngelo Williams
In Week 15 against the San Diego Chargers, Williams rushed for 93 yards. Last week versus the Oakland Raiders, he gained just 19 yards on the ground. Facing the Saints’ 29th-ranked run defense, he’ll regain his productivity.
Most of Sproles’ production comes as a receiver—he’s actually caught more balls (67) than he’s received carries (45) this year. And against the Panthers’ eighth-ranked pass defense, he’ll struggle to make an impact on offense.
Sleeper: Mark Ingram
As already mentioned, Carolina’s defense knows how to stop the pass. However, it is less spectacular stopping the run. The Panthers allow 113.2 yards per game and Ingram is the Saints’ best back to take advantage.
What They’re Saying
The Associated Press reported that Ron Rivera said he doesn’t know if he needs another win under his belt to convince owner Jerry Richardson that he’s the man for the job in Carolina (via ESPN).
"There have been no assurances. Mr. Richardson has been steady just like he's always been. We'll see once it's all said and done.”
Something that could get somebody fired, according to Chase Stuart of FootballPerspective.com, is that the Saints defense is historically pitiful:
The Saints have allowed the most yards through 15 games of any team in history pfref.com/tiny/of97Z— Chase Stuart (@fbgchase) December 25, 2012
Panthers Player to Watch: Cam Newton
Last week was the first time in six weeks that he failed to finish with a passer rating of over 95.0. He’s almost guaranteed to bounce back against the Saints’ pitiful stop unit.
Newton completed 70 percent of his passes for 253 yards a touchdown while adding another 71 yards and touchdown on the ground in a Week 2 victory over the Saints.
Saints Player to Watch: Roman Harper
If he’s able to slow Newton down at all, New Orleans should cruise to victory.
Key Matchup: Drew Brees vs. Captain Munnerlyn
Brees has thrown seven touchdowns the past two weeks and it wouldn’t be shocking if he maintained that pace against the Panthers. He threw just one against them in their first meeting, though, and he was picked off twice.
Munnerlyn is tied for the team lead with two interceptions—he took each to the house—and will look to keep Brees’ cold streak against the Panthers going.
On the Hot Seat: Ron Rivera
If the Panthers win this football game, there’s no way that Rivera should be fired after such a strong finish to the season. If they do lose, especially in an embarrassing fashion, his job will be in danger.
Newton is too valuable for Richardson to risk keeping around a coach that he isn’t 100 percent sure can get the job done.
The Panthers and Saints both have electric offenses. Only one has a respectable defense, though: Carolina. It has now ranked eighth in the NFL in yards allowed and that’s something New Orleans’ 32nd-ranked stop unit just can’t compete with.
Carolina by 3
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.