New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
When: 8:15 PM ET, Monday, December 17, 2018
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
The Carolina Panthers reached the midway point of the season riding a three-game winning streak and hot on the heels of the first-place New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. The Panthers have not won since and now face the prospect of having to beat the NFC-leading Saints twice in the final three weeks to make the playoffs, beginning with Monday night’s matchup at Carolina.
The Panthers’ five-game slide, which includes four losses on the road, has them sitting among three teams that are one-half game behind Minnesota for the second wild card in the NFC. “We feel like we are going to win every game,” Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers told reporters. “It is not for a lack of confidence. It is just a lack of execution.” New Orleans appeared on the verge of a second straight defeat before scoring 25 unanswered points in last week’s 28-14 win at Tampa Bay to maintain its hold on the top overall seed in the NFC. The Saints, who swept three meetings with the Panthers last season, including a 31-26 playoff victory, can clinch a first-round bye with a win on Monday and a loss by Chicago to Green Bay.
TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Saints -6.5. O/U: 50.5
ABOUT THE SAINTS (11-2): While Drew Brees and the offense understandably receive the bulk of the publicity, New Orleans has limited its last five opponents to 17 points or fewer and ranks No. 1 in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 77.6 yards. Brees has one touchdown pass and one interception in each of the last two games, but he still leads the league in passer rating (120.8) and completion percentage (75.7). Brees, who has posted 31 TD passes against four interceptions, has an elite receiver in Michael Thomas, who ranks second in the NFL with 102 catches. Alvin Kamara is a two-way threat out of the backfield with 1,384 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns while Mark Ingram has rushed for 519 yards and five scores.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (6-7): Cam Newton, battling a sore throwing shoulder, failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time since the season opener in last week’s 26-20 loss at Cleveland, although he joined Peyton Manning as the only players with 3,000 yards passing in each of their first eight seasons. Christian McCaffrey continues to carry the offense, rushing for two touchdowns and catching six passes last week to give him 1,627 yards from scrimmage and 13 scores on the season. Rookie wide receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel have emerged as Newton’s top targets, although Ian Thomas made nine catches for 77 yards in place of injured tight end Greg Olsen last week. Carolina ranks seventh in run defense (97.8 yards).
1. Brees has thrown for 1,521 yards with 13 TDs and three picks in his last five meetings with Carolina.
2. Newton has rushed for five touchdowns in his last seven home contests versus New Orleans.
3. Thomas has 298 career receptions, the most by any player in his first three seasons.