The Carolina Panthers are on the road to take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football in Week 14, and nothing less than the NFC South lead is at stake.
Both teams come into Sunday night's contest with 9-3 records, and this will be the first of two meetings in the next three weeks. Needless to say, with just four games remaining, the team that wins this upcoming game will be in the driver's seat for the divisional crown and at least one home playoff game.
In terms of momentum, Carolina has it right now, and New Orleans doesn't.
As relayed by the Panthers on Twitter, the team's 27-6 victory in Week 13 over Tampa Bay was its eighth in a row, which is a franchise record:
Carolina extends franchise record winning streak to eight with big victory over Tampa Bay: http://t.co/lPWRmxt3tW— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 2, 2013
On the opposite end of the momentum spectrum, New Orleans is coming off a brutal 34-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football. The Saints are a much different team at home, however, and you can be sure Sean Payton will have his team ready to respond.
Here's a look at when and where you can catch this epic NFC South clash:
When: Sunday, Dec. 8, at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Covers)
- Over/Under: 45.5 points
- Spread: NO (-3)
Panthers Injury Report (via Panthers.com)
Saints Injury Report (via NewOrleansSaints.com)
How Will Drew Brees Fare Against Carolina's Vaunted Defense?
Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Drew Brees saw his 43-game streak of passing for at least 200 yards end on Monday night in Seattle, as the Seahawks were happy to point out on Twitter:
New Orleans was able to generate just 188 total yards of offense, 12 first downs and one touchdown against Seattle's defense—despite the fact that Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner were both out of the game.
Things don't get any easier in Week 14.
Carolina comes into this game with the league's No. 6-ranked pass defense, the No. 2-ranked run defense and the No. 1-ranked scoring defense.
Tom Brady had a rough outing at home against this defense back in Week 11 (one touchdown and one interception). One week before that, Colin Kaepernick failed to crack 100 yards at home in Week 10, throwing no touchdowns and one interception.
Carolina's front four is disruptive, and the Panthers have sacked opposing quarterbacks 39 times already this year to rank No. 2 in the league. Though the Saints haven't come close to losing at home this season, the Panthers will break that streak if Brees can't turn things around on Sunday.
The Panthers have what it takes to take down the Saints.
The defensive front seven will dominate the line of scrimmage, shutting down New Orleans' rushing attack and putting consistent pressure on Brees. As we've seen in the past, Brees isn't as effective in games in which he's hitting the turf on a regular basis.
Who you got?
On offense, Cam Newton's elusiveness in the pocket will be a problem for New Orleans. His ability to stretch plays with his legs will allow his receivers to get open downfield for a few huge plays, and he's been completing those passes with regularity of late.
We're witnessing a changing of the guard in the NFC South. Carolina is rising, and the Panthers will take control of the division with a stunning road win on Sunday night.
Panthers win 27-24.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78