The NFC South division champion New Orleans Saints (11-4) finish up their season with a trip to the Bank of America Stadium to face their division rival Carolina Panthers (5-10).
Both teams picked up wins last Sunday. An inspired performance from running back Alvin Kamara, who scored 6 rushing touchdowns, helped the Saints to an easy 52-33 W against the Minnesota Vikings. The Panthers edged out a tough W against Washington, 20-13, a game in which receiver Curtis Samuel notched up 158 yards from scrimmage.
Carolina's playoff hopes are long gone, but the season of festive goodwill is over and they won't want to give any cheap gifts to the Saints at home on the final day. Players will be playing for their futures on the roster, so expect anything but a dead rubber from the all-action Panthers (especially if this man carries over last week's form...)
Even if the Bears were to beat the Packers on Sunday, the Saints' loss to Green Bay in week-3 means they cannot finish as 1st seed in the NFC. Also, the most recent news coming from the Saints' camp regarding Alvin Kamara's eligibility to play on Sunday (COVID) gives the Panthers renewed cause for optimism, too: the Saints are riddled with injuries on offense and have very little to play for... so this one could be a lot closer than people think!
Happy New Year to our entire readership, let's cast an eye over the key stats heading into the final day in the NFC South.
Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints Head-To-Head
The Saints and the Panthers have met each other 52 times (including a post-season game). The New Orleans Saints have won 27 games and the Carolina Panthers wave won 25 games. In the most recent contest between the two teams, the Saints scraped a close one at the Mercedes Benz Superdome, winning by just three points (27-24).
Carolina Panthers' season results: L L W W W L L L L L W L L L W
New Orleans Saints' season results: W L L W W W W W W W W W L L W
Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints Team News
Panthers' head coach, Matt Rhule has officially ruled star-RB, Christian McCaffrey out of Carolina's final game of the year. With Mike Davis also struggling for fitness with an ankle injury, Rodney Smith and Trenton Cannon could lead the Panthers' backfield charge on Sunday.
Out for Panthers: RB Christian McCaffrey (thigh)
Saints' fans are likely to have a wait a little longer for the return of their star-studded set of receivers: Michael Thomas, Deonte Harris, and Tre'Quan Smith are unlikely to be rushed back from injury for the trip to Carolina; not with the Playoffs looming on the horizon. The Saints have managed well in the absence of the trio, but today's most recent news about Alvin Kamara and the likelihood of his being placed on the COVID reserve list comes as a bitter blow. Latavius Murray looks set to fill in at RB1 -- fantasy managers take note!
Better news for the "Who Dat?" nation: Trey Hendrickson should return to action versus the Panthers. The Saints' defensive end, who has 12.5 sacks to his name on the year, had missed last week's win against the Vikings with a neck injury.
Doubtful for Saints: TE Josh Hill (hand), S Marcus Williams (ankle), RB Alvin Kamara (COVID-RESERVE)
Out for Saints: WR Michael Thomas (thigh), S/DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson (COVID-RESERVE)
Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints Projected Starters
QB: Teddy Bridgewater
RB: Mike Smith (doubtful), Rodney Smith, Trenton Cannon
WR: Robby Anderson, DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel
TE: Ian Thomas
New Orleans Saints
QB: Drew Brees
WR: Emmanuel Sanders, Jake Kumerow
TE: Jared Cook
Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints Prediction
New Orleans has played most of the season with major injuries at wideout, but Sean Payton has kept the Saints' offense firing. With Alvin Kamara set to miss out against the Panthers though, the coach's offensive options appear wafer-thin.
Given the home field advantage and the Saints' long list of injuries, one might be tempted to back the Panthers for this one, but Carolina's defensive line ranks 28th in the league against the rush, and -- in the absence of AK41 -- Saints' power RB2, Latavius Murray could see a lot of the ball and might well have a big afternoon...
Prediction: New Orleans 27-21 Carolina PanthersPublished 02 Jan 2021, 08:56 IST