High Stakes: Saints Fighting for Top NFC Seed in Season Finale

12:00 December 31, 2020
By: Andrew Alexander

Can you say ALVIN KAMARA?

If there were any doubts that Alvin Kamara was worth every dollar of his preseason $75 million deal, the fourth-year running back silenced the critics with a six-touchdown performance on Christmas Day against the Vikings.

Kamara exploded against Minnesota for his biggest game of the season, propelling the Saints to a 52-33 holiday victory and winning countless fantasy football championships for his owners, including Drew Brees's son, in the process.

The win over the Vikings kept New Orleans's hopes of a No. 1 seed alive heading into the final week of the season, but they'll need a little help from around the league to achieve that goal.

New Orleans (11-4) at Carolina (5-10)

Where/When to Watch: Sunday, January 3, at 3:25 p.m. on FOX

The last time these two teams faced off, the Saints narrowly squeaked out a 27-24 victory after Carolina kicker Joey Slye fell inches short of connecting on a game-tying 65-yard field goal.

Since that game in late October, the Panthers are 2-6, but they have only lost one of those six games by more than eight points. A lot of close games haven't gone Carolina's way, but they've been frisky all season, even without star running back Christian McCaffrey.

In his first season as Carolina's starting quarterback, Teddy "Two Gloves" Bridgewater has put up decent numbers, throwing for over 3,500 yards, with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while also running for 272 yards and five touchdowns.

Mike Davis has filled in admirably for McCaffrey at running back, but Davis isn't the same dynamic playmaker, rushing for just 642 yards and six touchdowns while assuming starting duties for most of the season. The Panthers do possess a trio of solid receivers to watch out for this weekend. DJ Moore and Robby Anderson both have over 1,000 yards receiving this season, and Curtis Samuel has over 730 yards as well.

Carolina's defense is the epitome of middle-of-the-pack in the NFL, and the Saints should be able to find success in Brees's third game back from injury.

It would have been nice for Brees and receiver Michael Thomas to be able to play together for the final stretch of the regular season, but Thomas is still dealing with a lingering ankle injury. Fingers crossed that he's ready for postseason play.

Even with Thomas sidelined, the Saints' offense still finds a way to move the ball and score. Kamara found the end zone six times last week, but Brees completed over 73 percent of his passes for 311 yards, hitting Emmanuel Sanders for 83 yards, Jared Cook for 82 yards, Adam Trautman for 45 yards, and Marquez Callaway for 26 yards.

It certainly helps when Brees has a clean pocket to navigate, and he had plenty of time to find his targets last weekend against the Vikings.

New Orleans blasted Carolina 42-10 in the 2019 season finale, but that squad had already fired its coach and lacked any sort of fight in the midst of a mediocre season. While these Panthers aren't vying for playoff contention, it's a new era in Carolina, with hopes to end the season on a high note and get ready for a possible playoff push next season.

The Saints are still in contention for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the coveted first-round bye. To claim the conference's top spot, New Orleans needs to finish in a three-way tie with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, with all three teams finishing with a 12-4 record. The Saints need to beat the Panthers, have Seattle beat the San Francisco 49ers, and hope that the playoff hopeful Chicago Bears can knock off the Packers. If all that falls into place, the Saints can rest easy during the first weekend of playoff action and allow the team to recover before a (hopefully) long playoff run.

New Orleans has to take care of business first, and with high stakes at play, the Panthers better watch out.

Prediction: Saints 31, Panthers 17

Andrew Alexander is a contributing writer, football fan, and unofficial president of the Arch Manning Fan Club. Follow him on Twitter at @TheOtherAA and listen to the Krewe du Drew podcast.

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