We’ve got a battle in the NFC tonight on Monday Night Football. New Orleans looks to stay in the lead for the top seed in NFC as the Saints take on the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. Carolina (6-7) has lost five in a row and strangely finds themselves in a must win game tonight or they risk losing the second wild-card spot. This must win attitude is what will drive our NFL Monday Night Football prediction for this week.
Fortunately for the Saints, their recent offensive struggles didn’t cost them two weeks in a row. After trailing 14-3 at halftime, a blocked punt by Taysom Hill sparked four straight scoring drives as New Orleans came from behind to beat the Buccaneers 28-14 last Sunday. The win coupled with the Rams’ loss in Chicago put the Saints back atop the NFC courtesy of their head-to-head win in Week 9.
These two teams will meet again in Week 17 to close out the regular season. The Saints have won four of the past five matchups, including all three (beat Carolina 31-26 in the NFC Wild Card Game) last season. We think tonight’s game will be another close one. The current line at Wannamakeabet.com is Saints – 6 and the O/U is 50.5. Kickoff is 8:15 on ESPN.
It’s all about the Run
Similar to Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers must always account for Kamara when he’s on the field. It may not seem like much but when he rushes for 40 or more yards, New Orleans is 10-0. Kamara teams with Mark Ingram (519 yards, 5 TDs in 9 games) to give the Saints a potent 1-2 punch in their backfield.
While Carolina obviously will have to contend with Drew Brees, the Panthers need to continue their good work against the run. When holding opponents under 90 rushing yards, Carolina is 4-1. Making New Orleans one-dimensional on offense, especially on the road, should improve the Panthers’ chances on Monday night. And don’t forget their overall home record is 5-1 and also 5-1 ATS.
The five game losing streak is a bit deceiving. The games have been close. The four most recent losses have come by a total of 17 points. Part of the problem during this stretch has been an offense averaging 20.8 points per game.
Turnovers certainly haven’t helped. The Panthers have turned it over nine times during this stretch while generating just three takeaways. Through the eight games of the season, they were sporting a plus-three margin.
Saints D. Yup. You read that right.
Defense is not the first thing you think of when you think of the Saints. But that side of the ball is just as responsible for the team’s success this season. Brees and company continue to do their thing, ranked second in the NFL in scoring (34.4 ppg) and seventh in yards (389.0) per game, but the defense deserves plenty of credit.
For starters, the Saints are No. 1 in the league in rushing defense (77.6 ypg) and 10th in scoring (21.8 ppg). Over the last 10 games, New Orleans has held all but two opponents (Rams, Ravens) to no more than 20 points. That does not bode well for a Carolina offense that’s struggling to score. But can they stop McCaffrey tonight? We shall see.
The Panthers are second in the league in rushing offense (137.4 ypg) so it will probably come down to strength vs. strength when Carolina has the ball. An effective running game will allow the home team to control the clock and keep the ball out of Brees’ hands. This strategy worked well for Dallas two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the Saints’ defense will have yet another opportunity to show this team doesn’t have to score a ton of points to win.
The Saints have already secured the NFC South title and are in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye. But last week’s loss by the Rams has New Orleans thinking of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. And that was further assisted last night when the Rams lost to the Eagles. So they don’t exactly need this win tonight to keep that position.
Carolina has lost five in a row but is still very much in the hunt for the second wild-card spot. This is a must-win situation. For a team that plays very well at home.
Prediction: Carolina 26-Saints 23. Carolina wins straight up and hits on the moneyline but the game stays under.
Jack Kincaid is a senior Wannamakeabet.com staff writer.