Two NFC South teams will look for a positive spin to the end of disappointing seasons when the Carolina Panthers (6-9) visit the New Orleans Saints (7-8) on Sunday.
Both teams got off to slow starts this season before putting together nice runs to finish out the season, and each team will be looking to make one last statement in the division before heading into the offseason.
For Carolina, year two of the Cam Newton era didn't get off to the excellent start that the Panther faithful were hoping for and expecting. The Panthers started the season 3-9 before rallying to finish the season on a three-game winning streak that they will take into New Orleans.
Drew Brees' Saints have experienced a similar arch this season. Without head coach Sean Payton, the Saints got off to a poor start in which they lost four straight games to start the season. They were able to rebound and go 5-1 in the next six games before dropping three straight.
Neither team thought they would be out of contention at this point in the season, but both squads have shown that they aren't going to take the poor season lying down—this should be a competitive game throughout.
The Panthers took the Week 2 matchup between these two squads in a 35-27 barn-burner. Here's everything you need to know about their Week 17 rematch.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans
When: Sunday, Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. ET
Listen: Sirius XM Radio: 93 or online at Audio Pass
Spread: New Orleans -6 (via Bovada)
The Panthers have three wins in a row by 10 points or more, so it's a bit of a surprise that they are almost a touchdown underdog this week.
Winning at the Superdome is never easy—the Saints are 5-3 at home this season and traditionally have one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL. However, the Panthers are playing really well and have been good at covering the spread this season.
According to Covers, the Panthers are 10-1 against the spread in their last eleven games.
The Saints may pick up the win, but this will be a close game. Taking the points with the Panthers is the safe bet here.
Over/Under: 54 (via Bovada)
Cam Newton is playing close to the level that fans hoped he would play at all season. Drew Brees is still one of the game's elite quarterbacks. There will be plenty of points scored in this one.
The Saints are coming off of 41 and 34 point performances in the last two weeks and the Panthers have scored over 30 points in two of the last three weeks. The Saints have had their fair share of defensive issues and will have to outscore the Panthers if they want to win.
The over is a pretty safe bet here as these two teams will trade scores all day.
Injury Report (via CBS Sports as of 12/27/2012)
|LB||Thomas Davis||Not injury related||Questionable|
|DT||Dwan Edwards||Not injury related||Questionable|
|DE||Greg Hardy||Not injury related||Questionable|
|DE||Charles Johnson||Not injury related||Questionable|
|TE||Greg Olsen||Not injury related||Questionable|
|WR||Steve Smith||Not injury related||Questionable|
|RB||DeAngelo Williams||Not injury related||Questionable|
New Orleans Saints
|TE||Jimmy Graham||Wrist, finger||Probable|
Fantasy Big Plays
Carolina: TE Greg Olsen
In a fantasy season devoid of great options at tight end this season, Olsen has actually been a consistent contributor for the Panthers.
Newton seems to have developed a good rapport with his big tight end and Olsen has had his best statistical season as a result. His steady diet of targets makes him a dangerous play at tight end every week and he should be a good play again this week.
It's been two weeks since Olsen has found the end zone but with the Saints defensive woes, Olsen should find a way to score one this week.
Projected Stats: 6 receptions, 65 yards, 1 TD
New Orleans: RB Darren Sproles
Sproles is one of the most unique weapons in fantasy football.
He's usually underrated as a running back because he doesn't get a ton of carries, but he has a great matchup in the Panthers. Sproles does most of his damage as a receiver coming out of the backfield and should be utilized against Carolina.
Sproles has improved as a runner as the season has worn on and he has three weeks in a row with double-digit fantasy production. Sproles is the hot hand in the Saints backfield and racked up 13 receptions against the Panthers in Week 2. A definite start in points per receptions.
Projected Stats: 7 carries, 40 yards, 8 receptions, 50 yards, 1 TD
Key to the Victory
This is going to be a shootout, there's no doubt about that.
Both teams love to throw the ball around and both teams have quarterbacks that can carve up the secondary. In a game where stops will be few and far between, the key to winning is forcing turnovers on defense while taking care of the ball on offense.
The Saints have really depended on Brees to take care of the ball—in the team's seven wins, he has three interceptions. In the Saints eight losses, he has 15.
If Brees is able to keep from turning the ball over, the Saints will be difficult to stop.
The Saints are tough to beat when Brees is locked in. He's capable of throwing multiple interceptions in losses, but he looked great against Dallas last week and the Buccaneers the week prior. If he's throwing lasers all over the field, the Saints are really tough to beat.
Newton and the Panthers should be able to keep up—the Saints have been awful on defense all season and got scorched by Tony Romo last week. However, Brees should be able to get the last laugh in a high-scoring affair
Final Score: New Orleans 34, Carolina 30