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Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints Point Spread - Pick

Carolina Panthers (11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS) vs. New Orleans Saints (11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS)
NFC Wild Card Playoff
Date/Time: Sunday, January 7, 2018 at 4:40PM EST
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
TV: Fox

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: CAR +6/NO -6
Over/Under Total: 48.5

The Carolina Panthers come to the Superdome on Sunday to take on the New Orleans Saints in NFC Wild Card Playoff action. This battle of 11-5 teams should be a good one. The Saints were able to reverse a run of several seasons of mediocrity with a big season. Without a ton to gain, they lost to the Bucs on Sunday, but after starting the season at 0-2, they went on a big run of 8 straight wins to right the ship and despite some late-season issues, they loom as a real contender. The Panthers also faltered late in a loss to the Falcons, but with 7 wins in 8 games leading up to that, they showed they have reclaimed some of the form that helped them win this conference two seasons ago.

As divisional foes, this will be the third meeting between these teams. Obviously, the postseason landscape exceeds anything that happened in the regular season, but maybe there is something to be gleaned from those earlier matchups. The Panthers were swept by the Saints this season, losing a week 3 matchup, 34-13, before dropping a 31-21 game to the Saints in week 13. That's not a particularly favorable element of this game for the Panthers, who didn't match up all that well with the Saints this season. Carolina QB Cam Newton didn't really shine in either game, while New Orleans kept the Carolina run-game in check. Carolina will need to come up with some better answers, while the Saints need to stay on-point and not think the third time will be easy. It won't be—not even at home.

Again, the Saints overcame a rough start, but they really looked ragged in the 0-2 start. We saw an offense that had dipped in form, with a defense that again threatened to undermine the entire team effort. The 8-game winning streak that followed was really surprising; as we saw the offense and defense upgrade its play significantly. In their last 6 games, they were just 3-3, but two of those wins came against divisional powers Atlanta and Carolina, which allowed them to win the division. All told, an 11-5 record with how things started is pretty darn good.

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Carolina's road to this spot was also rocky for different reasons. A 4-1 start was nice, even if Cam Newton looked dicey coming off of offseason surgery. Two straight losses dropped them to 4-3 and they looked to be fading. But seven wins in their next eight games showed them in fine form on both sides of the ball. Their only loss in that stretch was to the Saints, which is concerning, being that they already lost to them when they were flying high, twice losing to New Orleans in the midst of winning streaks this season. But their formula can be hard to beat in the postseason—a heavy dose of running with a defense that is stout and can make a lot of good things happen.

Last season of the game aside, the Panthers were able to see some things working on offense late in the season. Cam Newton looks pumped-up and ready to lead his team to big things. He had some rough patches this season, but has been making a lot happen with this arm and legs lately, leading the team in rushing with 754 yards. Jonathan Stewart (questionable) added a nice boost to the ground-game. Rookie Christian McCaffrey wasn't always a consistent force on the ground, but with 435 rushing yards and 80 catches, he was a big threat in his rookie season. Now would be a nice time for TE Greg Olsen to have worked himself back fully to be the weapon he has been in the past. WR Devin Funchess' physical receiving style could also come in handy in a spot like this. This is still a part of the Panthers' formula that doesn't always manifest well, as evidenced by the two games against the Saints this season where they totaled a modest 34 points.

The Panthers' defense was pretty solid for the most part in 2017. Against the Saints, the 65 total points they allowed in two games is not promising for the purposes of this matchup, but they've shown enough wherewithal to offer hope of improvement. And they are still loaded. The front with Mario Addison, Julius Peppers, Kawann Short, and Star Lotulelei has been tremendous. Addison, Peppers, and Short have combined for 29.5 sacks. And they've been robust against the run for most of the season. One time they weren't was the last game against the Saints, though they did well in the first matchup. They look for the linebacker trio of Shaq Thompson, Luke Kuechly, and Thomas Davis to be at their best this week. Against Brees, the secondary wasn't great this season in two games, giving up 4 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Drew Brees really had a good season with 4334 yards through the air. The offense gets a big boost from a pair of all-pro backs in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, both of whom are valuable aerial pieces. The pair combined for nearly 2000 yards on the ground and 139 receptions, along with 25 touchdowns. Kamara had a tremendous rookie season with 728 rushing yards and 826 through the air. Michael Thomas had 1245 yards receiving, with Ted Ginn, Jr. and Brandon Coleman chipping in, as well. A lot of different guys on this side of the ball have room to shine.

Early signs suggested this would be another subpar New Orleans defense this season, but at the end of the season, they ended up allowing just a tad over 20 points a game. More often than not, opposing offenses have struggled and this very Panthers offense they face on Sunday happens to be one of them. They're not great, but they don't have to be. They are clutch when they need it most. Playmaking is a big part of their recipe for success. They have a robust pass-rush, led by Cameron Jordan and his 13 sacks. Rookie corner Marshon Lattimore has made a difference with his five picks, while S Marcus Williams had four. Craig Robertson and Manti Te'o have helped make the middle more of an asset in recent weeks.

Carolina heated up over the second-half of the season and despite the previous two losses this season to the Saints, they represent a dangerous proposition, especially from an ATS standpoint. There are a lot of guys on that sideline who know how to thrive in the postseason. The feeling here is though a lot has changed over the course of the season, this isn't a particularly strong matchup for Carolina. With New Orleans having shown it can play defense against this bunch, the gap in their respective offense's firepower has been too much for Carolina to overcome and I see more of that showing up on Sunday.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the New Orleans Saints minus 6 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the wild card playoffs from the comfort of home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 50% sign-up bonus!

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