Atlanta Falcons (10-6 SU, 7-9 ATS) vs. Los Angeles Rams (11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS)
Carolina Panthers (11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS) vs. New Orleans Saints (11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS)
NFC Wild Card Playoff Preview
Date/Time: Sunday January 7th, 2018. 4:40PM (EST)
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome New Orleans, L.A.
by Jay, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: CAR +7.5/NO -7.5
Over/Under Total: 48.5
The opening round of the playoffs will conclude this Sunday when the Carolina Panthers meet the New Orleans Saints inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. These two NFC South rivals are very familiar with each other. In fact, this Sundays game will mark the 3rd meeting between both teams this season. The Saints pulled out both victories in the prior two meetings which helped them clinch the NFC South despite having the exact same record as the Panthers at 11-5 SU and 9-7 ATS. The question this Sunday is can the Saints complete the trifecta and take down the Panthers for the 3rd time?
The Panthers closed out the year as one of the hottest teams in the NFC winning 8 of their final 10 games. The Panthers only losses during that stretch were a 31-21 loss to the Saints in week 13 and a loss to the Falcons in a forgettable week 17 contest. Quarterback Cam Newton has played better down the stretch tossing 12 touchdowns with just 5 picks in the final 7 games. Newton has also rushed for at least 50 yards in 5 straight games to add to his dynamic playmaking ability. By now it should not be a surprise that this Carolina offense is only as good as their quarterback. With a minimal running attack, the Panthers offense relies on Newton to distribute the ball to guys like TE Greg Olsen, RB Christian McCaffrey, and WR Devin Funchess. All of those players are great football players but they are only effective when Newton is playing well.
The enigma to predicting Carolinas chances this week depends on the performance of the guy they call Superman. As mentioned above, Newton has played very well at times this season. However, he has also played very poorly at times as well. For example, he threw 3 interceptions in the week 17 loss to Atlanta and completed just 41% of his passes. If you look at the 5 losses this year, Newton has thrown just 4 touchdown passes with 11 interceptions in those games. Therefore, the Panthers cannot afford their star quarterback to go cold during the playoffs or they will be surely eliminated.
So what circumstances could affect Newton and the Panthers offense on Sunday? Well lets consider the tangibles. First, neither Newton nor the entire Panthers offense typically performs well when playing from behind. Fortunately, the Panthers are usually playing from ahead thanks to their tremendous defense which is the backbone of this team. Defensively, the Panthers have given up just 317 yards per game on the season which ranks 6th in the league and they often put the Panthers offense in good field position.
The problem in some situations, most notably against the Saints in the prior two meetings, is that teams like New Orleans have been able to move the football consistently against that same Panthers defense. New Orleans offense has exploded this year and it has not been because of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Bress. Instead, it has been thanks to a dynamic running attack led by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. Kamara has my vote for the offensive rookie of the year honor and quite honestly could be the leagues next superstar. He has been incredible during the 2nd half of the season with blowup fantasy days against the Rams and Panthers in back to back weeks late in the year. Ingram continues to get the primary duties as the Saints leading rusher and has also done a great job. However, Kamara has definitely emerged as the big play threat.
The two running backs, along with a vastly improved offensive line, have provided a huge boost to this Saints offense this year to compliment Brees and the passing attack. Brees has continued to post stellar numbers completing 72% passing for 4,334 yards with 23 touchdowns and just 8 picks. Michael Thomas and Kamara have combined for 2,000 receiving yards while catching 5 touchdowns each. Yet, it is the balance from this offense that makes the Saints so dangerous. Defenses simply have not had answers in coverage/schemes and the Panthers have fell victim to the scenario twice. Unfortunately for Carolina fans, I just do not see the scenario changing. I realize it is hard to beat a team 3 times in one season. However, the Saints matchup perfectly against the Panthers and game flow should be considered as a huge disadvantage to Carolina if they allow the Saints to get up early. Therefore, I will ride the better team with the better matchup.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Saints -7.5. - Bet this game for FREE by taking advantage of a 50% bonus up to $250 at one of the web’s oldest and most trusted betting sites: BOVADA