The New Orleans Saints have been looking forward to this moment for quite some time now: the end of the season. After an abysmal start to the year, and after a failed glimmer of hope mid-season, the Saints are looking forward to the offseason to regroup. Head coach Sean Payton reportedly is going to sign a 5-year extension with the franchise after sitting this one out due to a suspension. This is good news for the Saints, as they have been in a state of flux without their leader. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good coach, which was ever so evident this season with the Saints. Before the Saints enter the offseason though, they will square off one last time in week 17 against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers were expecting big things out of second year quarterback Cam Newton in 2012. And while he couldn’t lead them to a winning season, Newton faired pretty well regardless of the negativity towards him.
Newton certainly hasn’t turned heads the way RG3 has, but it has been a productive season nevertheless. Statistically speaking Newton has improved from a season ago, notching an 88.0 QB rating, up from 84.5. He has also cut down on interceptions drastically, 19 in 2011 to 11 at the moment. He is also on pace to tie or surpass his 21 passing touchdowns with a good showing against the Saints, where he currently has 19 touchdowns passing on the year. So, while the media and fans paint Newton as having a bad year, he has actually cut down on mistakes and played fundamentally better. Last week, however, should have been a week where Newton exploded against an extremely weak Raiders’ pass defense. He managed just 170 yards passing and a touchdown on the day. He’ll have another opportunity to do well against another porous defense this week. The offense as a whole is ranked 17th in the league, averaging 20.9 points a game. Something they will need to improve on for next season. The backfield promised to play a big role in 2012, but has sputtered due to injuries to Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams throughout the year. While the Panthers are the 10th best rushing offense in the league, remember that many of those yards come from Newton scrambling.
The Panthers’ defense is a deceiving bunch, while you think they would be ranked at the back of the pack considering the teams’ 6-7 record, they are actually the 8th best defense in the NFL. They allow only 325.9 yards a game and 21.7 points. Thanks to a good pass rush up front, the defense has molded into a pretty productive unit. The last two weeks they have only given up 13 points total. It came against the Raiders and Chargers, but still an impressive feat regardless. They are going to need a complete effort to slow the Saints’ offense down in this one. The Saints rank 3rd with regards to total team offense at 391.9 yards a game and the passing game only trails the Detroit Lions with 307.9 passing yards per game. One thing you can surely bet is that Drew Brees is going to bring his A game to try and enter the offseason on a high note, putting the distractions far away from the team.
The offense is certainly not the problem, but the defense has been an utter train wreck. The cards came crashing down with the injury to talented linebacker Jonathan Vilma. They never could quite recover without a leader on the defensive side of the ball, getting torched week in and week out. The Saints rank dead last in yardage allowed at 434.1 a game which could very well go down as the worst of all time in the NFL. They also give up 27.3 points per game. Since early in the season, however, they have taken a stride forward which isn’t saying much, but two weeks ago they forced five turnovers and held the Buccaneers to a big fat donut.
Panthers vs. Saints Spread and Betting Odds:
Carolina Panthers +5 (-110)
@ New Orleans Saints -5 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Panthers vs. Saints Pick:
Both of these teams have had underachieving campaigns, and if it wasn’t for such a difficult schedule, the Panthers would have had a much more impressive record than their posted record of 6-9. There was a little chatter about the Saints going out strong this year with a vengeance. However, that hasn’t come to fruition as the defense has severely let them down. Brees has done his best to try and make up for the porous defense, but it hasn’t been enough. Brees wants this game more than anybody, and the defense is trying to avoid going down in history as the worst in NFL history.
I think the Superdome crowd is going to will the Saints to a win and cover in this one. The news of Sean Payton receiving a new contract may motivate them a little more as well. The Saints and Panthers met last year in week 17, and the final was 41-17 Saints. While I do not believe it will be that much of a route, the Saints should play well enough to pick up the cover at home and finish .500 on the season.
PICK = Saints -5