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
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