NFL Playoff Picks — Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints have done pretty well against the Carolina Panthers this season, winning both meetings between the teams. Their objective is to make it three in a row, and that is exactly what they are going to have to do if they are going to advance in the NFL playoffs. The Panthers have to do something differently than they have in the two previous encounters, or else they will be going home early. This NFC wild-card round game will begin at 4:30 PM ET on Sunday at the Superdome, and if you’re a BetAnySports patron, you’ll have the opportunity to place wagers in real-time, as you are able to access great software from Live Betting Ultra.
We’re not going to say it was “no-contest” when these teams got together, but it was a decisive job on the part of the Saints. Drew Brees went 47-of-63 passing, and New Orleans had 297 rushing yards in those two games. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was intercepted three times in the first meeting, and he had only 350 passing yards combined. Perhaps one of the reasons he couldn’t make more headway was that he didn’t have the requisite weapons to stretch the Saints’ defense, which improved a great deal over last season. It would have also helped to have the services of tight end Greg Olsen, who missed most of the season with a foot injury but is ready to contribute now.
The Panthers still had a chance to win the NFC South title, but they lost their regular season finale to the Atlanta Falcons, enabling the Saints to capture the division crown even though New Orleans was beaten by the Tampa Bay Bucs. Both teams were 11-5 on the season; the Saints were 8-8 against the spread, while the Panthers were 9-7 ATS.
In the odds at BetAnySports upon which we will make our NFL picks for this game, the Saints are solid favorites:
New Orleans Saints -7 (+100)
Carolina Panthers +7 (-120) 
 
Over 47.5 points  -110
Under 47.5 points  -110
In case you were interested, teams who have executed a regular season sweep over a division opponent, then had to face them again in the playoffs have won thirteen out of 19 games in that situation. One could probably make a case for the Panthers; for one thing there is the presence of Olsen to consider, and then there is the fact that Carolina did actually run the ball pretty well against New Orleans, with 244 yards in 45 attempts (5.4 yards per carry). Carolina does not have a bad resume, as they have scored wins over New England, the #1 seed in the AFC, and Minnesota, the #2 NFC seed. And one might be shocked, considering the high-level running game the Saints have developed, that the Panthers have actually averaged two more rushing yards per game.
But when it really comes down to it, Brees, who once again set an NFL record for accuracy (72%) and was sacked just 20 times, is just too slick, and now that he has the luxury of support from a dynamic backfield, he is more difficult to defend. Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram have been beasts; they have both achieved at least 1500 yards from scrimmage. And New Orleans’ stop unit has some genuine ball-hawks, snaring 20 interceptions, led by Marshon Lattimore, the first-round pick who became a Pro Bowl cornerback as a rookie.
Unless Newton takes control with his legs and has a super-human game, OR Jonathan Stewart (he of the 3.4-yard average and the back injury) sizzles, we can’t really see the Panthers being able to trade points, and despite the presence of stars like Luke Kuechly, the defense is stretched out way too much between the backs and Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas (Brees’ favorite target with 104 catches). So we lean toward New Orleans in this one.
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