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The Carolina Panthers (9-3, 4-2 away) looked well on their way to another high round draft pick after starting the season 1-3, but have since reeled off eight consecutive wins, leaving the likes of San Francisco and New England in their wake. Now, they will take on divisional rival New Orleans (9-3, 6-0 home) in the first of two games between these teams in three weeks. Last week the Panthers won 27-6 over a Tampa Bay team that was on a three game win streak.
Betonline and 5Dimes have the Saints favored by three points. The public is backing the Panthers at 60% right now at sportsbook.com, using their betting trends feature. New Orleans is 5-0-1 ATS in its last 6 games at home. Surprisingly, Carolina has dominated this game against the spread, going 8-2 in the last ten meetings between these teams. The total sits at 45.5 points. The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Carolina's last 5 games. However, the total has gone OVER in 4 of Carolina's last 5 games when playing New Orleans.
OT Zach Strief is questionable for the Saints. DE Charles Johnson is expected back for the Panthers, having not played since 11/18 against the Patriots. He has 8.5 sacks this year. Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams is also expected to return.
The high powered Saints offense went out with a whimper last week in a 34-7 loss at Seattle. They are averaging 18.8 PPG on the road, but 33.2 PPG when playing in the Super Dome. That means we can expect a much better effort from Drew Brees (104.9 RAT, 3,794 YDs & 29 TDs) and company this week. Brees leads the NFL's third best passing attack which gains 302.8 YPG. He can kill you with any number of targets and has connected with 10 different players to reach the end zone this year. His favorite, by far, is TE Jimmy Graham (68 REC, 988 YDs & 12 TDs). The Saints have their work cut out for them; the Panthers allow an NFL best 13.1 PPG.
Carolina operates behind one of the best young QB's in the league; Cameron Newton (88.1 RAT, 2,616 YDs & 19 TDs). The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner is as versatile as they come, as he possesses a rocket launcher for an arm and the legs of a gazelle. He has gained 447 YDs and 6 TDs on the ground this season. TE Greg Olsen (50 REC, 611 YDs, 5 TDs) is his go-to target and he also works the ball to WR Steve Smith (54 REC, 632 YDs, 3 TDs), Brandon LaFell (43 REC, 531 YDs, 5 TDs) and Tedd Ginn Jr. (29, 469 YDs, 4 TDs).
While the Carolina offense is adept, it is the defense that steals the show. They have the second best rush defense in the NFL at 80.3 YPG. They are 6th best against the pass at 209.6 YPG. They have recorded 39 sacks as a team, 16 INTs and 10 recovered fumbles. They have scored two TDs as a group.
The Saints have taken care of business at home all year long. The closest game was a 3 point win over San Fran while they won comfortable every other time they took the field at home this year. Of course, the Panthers are in the same league as the 49ers in terms of talent, making this a fascinating game.
Handicapping this game was made more difficult by last weeks results in Seattle. No question you'd expect the Saints to come out looking like a different team than we saw last week. They're at home, they have a little revenge motive going for them having lost both games to the Panthers last year and they're looking to rebound from their worst showing of the year.
Last weeks results make this difficult because the feeling here is that the Panthers are the better football team. They have the better numbers (numbers that matter) and our model agrees, with two out of the 3 predictions we run, predicting the Panthers to win straight up while the 3rd predicts a 1 point Saints win.
These two play again in two weeks. If the Panthers go down in this game, we'd LOVE them in two weeks at home regardless of the line. So, we're going to give them a shot here +3 and we already have our eyes on the Panthers in the rematch should they not prevail here. Panthers +3
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