Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints
Date and Time: Sunday, January 7, 2018, 4:40 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
Opening NFL Odds: Saints -6, O/U 48.5
Saints vs. Panthers TV Coverage: FOX
The Panthers and Saints both finished with identical 11-5 records, but it was clear which one of these two teams was dominant when they met on the field together. Carolina was soundly beaten in both its home date in Week 3 and its game here at the Superdome in Week 13.
It's easy to offer up some questions about the Panthers this year. They have a couple really nice wins under their belt, but they also have far too many games in which they simply were no-shows. They lost 22-10 in Week 17 to Atlanta, and that's the last thing bettors saw from them before this game. They also were beaten 17-3 by the Bears and were 9-3 winners in their home opener against Buffalo.
There are far too many times that Cam Newton just looks lost as a passer. He did a great job bailing himself out this year with his legs, leading the team with 754 yards on the ground, but 3,302 passing yards for a man who took virtually every snap this season doesn't cut it, especially not with 16 interceptions attached to that.
The Saints are far more multi-dimensional this year than they have been in the past. Their defense seemed to change completely with Marshon Lattimore's arrival, and the offense was transformed from one that required Drew Brees to unload the ball down the field to one in which the ground game and the short passing game can be lethal thanks to Alvin Kamara.
The Saints stumbled some down the stretch this year, including losing to the Bucs in Week 17. That said, they won their last seven games at home and can be forgiven for a Week 2 loss to the Patriots.
New Orleans became the second team in NFL history this year to start 0-2 and win eight straight games thereafter. The other team to do so was the Dallas Cowboys back in their heyday, and they went on to win the Super Bowl.
9 – The number of rushing attempts Newton had in two games against the Saints this year.
Keeping Newton in the pocket has always been incredibly important, and New Orleans seems to have figured out how to do that. Against the rest of the NFL, Newton averaged 9.3 rushing attempts per game. In a related story, the Panthers went 11-3 against the rest of the NFL, too.
Panthers vs. Saints Free Picks
There's something about this New Orleans team that strikes us as a Super Bowl contender. The Vikings feel beatable, and the Eagles are obviously a much different team without Carson Wentz than they were with him.
With Kamara and Mark Ingram each having over 1,500 scrimmage yards this year, the pressure has really come off of Brees. Go back and look back at the stats from that great Super Bowl run the Saints had after Hurricane Katrina. You'll see some striking similarities between what Brees has to work with now and what he had at that point, especially with the way his defense is suddenly playing.
It's going to take another big effort from Lattimore, Cameron Jordan and the rest of the Saints to get the job done here, but we think Carolina is set to implode and get blown away, casting plenty of doubt over Newton's ability to ultimately ever win a Super Bowl.
We would have comfortably laid seven at our favorite NFL sportsbooks on Sunday, but being asked to give just six is a late Christmas gift that we won't pass on.
NFL ATS Pick: Saints -6 at BookMaker.eu
NFL Score Prediction: Saints 34, Panthers 19