The 11-2 New Orleans Saints:
Despite being down to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 14 by a score of 3-14 with under five minutes let in the third quarter, the 11-2 New Orleans Saints ended up taking care of business for the 28-14 win and a guaranteed spot in the postseason.
Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees threw only his fourth interception of the season in that game while completing 24-of-31 for 201 yards and a touchdown.
New Orleans can win on the road – they’re 6-1 – and they’re 3-1 against teams from the NFC South, so it’s no wonder they’re being favored by almost a touchdown in this one.
The 6-7 Carolina Panthers:
With a chance to win the game with less than a minute left to play, quarterback Cam Newton threw an interception and the 6-7 Carolina Panthers fell to the resurging Cleveland Browns in Week 14 by a score of 20-26, their fifth loss in a row.
Newton’s Panthers have lost their last four games by a score and hope that they can end their losing streak with an upset win over the Saints at home.
Carolina is 5-1 at Bank of America Stadium, but they’re just 1-2 against AFC South rivals, so it is going to take everything Cam and company have to upset the favored Saints at home.
What’s at stake:
These two teams have met 47 times (including 1 postseason game), with Carolina winning 24 games and New Orleans winning 23 games. The Saints have won the last three meetings, the most recent one being in last season’s playoffs, a January wild card game that the Saints won 31-26.
If the Saints win this matchup, their record will be 12-2, the clear NFC South champs, and if the Chicago Bears lose to the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans will clinch their first seed playoff spot and the first-round bye.
But if the Panthers put a stop to their losing skid and come out on top, they’ll be 7-7 and remain one of the top contenders for the NFC’s sixth seed in the playoffs.
Oddly, these two teams will face each other again in two weeks in Week 17.
Questions to answer…
Who’s favored to win this Week 15 Saints-Panthers matchup?
Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?
Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?
We’re going to compare the Saints and the Panthers and attempt to answer those questions and more.
The 2018 Saints offense ranked 7th in the NFL
Brees and company know how to score – they put up an average of 34.4 points per game and move the ball 389.8 total yards every time they play, making them a top-ten offensive team.
Saints receivers, including Michael Thomas, Austin Carr, rookie Tre’Quan Smith and tight end Ben Watson, have collectively averaged 8.4 yards per catch this season, fifth best in the league.
The Hall-of-Fame bound Brees’ unbelievable 75.7 completion percentage leads the league, and his 3,463 passing yards puts him tenth amongst quarterbacks so far this season.
Saints rushing attack top-ten ranked
The Saints are tied for tenth best per-game average on the ground, gaining 125.3 rushing yards per outing.
Dual threat running back Alvin Kamara is in his second year and has 243 touches for 1,384 yards and 15 total touchdowns, on top of handling the Saints’ punt return responsibilities (see below).
New Orleans offensive Injuries
Listed as questionable for Week 15: offensive tackle Terron Armstead (pectoral)
Offensive tackle Michael Ola (ankle) was placed on injured reserve on December 11.
It’s been reported that it is possible wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (knee) could return from the injured reserve this season, but there are no definitive reports that it will happen in Week 15.
The 2018 Panthers offense ranked 9th overall
Carolina scores an average of 24.9 points every time they play, but they’ll need more than that and their typical 382.4 offensive yards to beat the Saints, who move the ball about the same but average almost ten points more per game.
The Panther’s most productive receiver this season has been D.J. Moore, who’s caught 47 balls for 676 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Rookie tight end Ian Thomas has played in 13 games, catching 25-of-33 for just 210 yards, low production but a high catching percentage of 75.8, especially for a first year player.
Carolina’s run game all McCaffrey
The Panthers running attack is centered around running back Christian McCaffrey, who currently ranks 5th overall in rushing yards with 926 and 7 touchdowns.
McCaffrey has great hands, too, and has caught 86 passes for 701 yards and 6 more touchdowns.
Carolina offensive Injuries
Listed as questionable for Week 15: place kicker Graham Gano (knee), so backup kicker Chandler Catanzaro will be ready to go.
Saints Defense ranks 14th in the league
The Saints are ranked 10th in points opponent points allowed (21.8) but allow the teams they play to gain 348.8 total yards each game with a pass defense ranked 28th in the league but a rush defense ranked first.
The New Orleans defense has snagged 11 total interceptions (T-15th) and they’ve had 41 team sacks which is tied for second most overall, but their 10 forced fumbles puts them tied for 23rd best in that category.
Saints Defensive Players to watch:
Outside linebacker Demario Davis has 95 tackles, on his way to his fourth 100+ tackle season.
Keep your eye on the T-sixth ranked sacking machine known as defensive end Cameron Jordan, who now has 12.0 sacks on the season.
In the Saints’ secondary, defensive back Chris Banjo has 2 interceptions and 3 passes defended in 2018.
Saints defensive injuries
There are currently no New Orleans defensive players listed as injured.
Panthers Defense is 17th overall
Carolina allows opponents to score 25.5 points per game by letting them average 352.6 total yards per outing, their rush defense ranked 7th but their pass defense ranked 20th.
The Panthers have 11 interceptions (T-15th) and just 30 sacks (T-23rd) but their 16 forced fumbles puts them tied for third in that category.
Panthers Defensive Players to watch:
If you like to watch excellent tacklers, look no further than middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who’s had the fourth most tackles in the league with 111.
Defensive end Mario Addison has put the scare into opposing quarterbacks with his 8.0 sacks and 10 quarterback hits this season.
The Panther’s secondary is a dangerous place to throw this season with cornerback Donte Jackson’s 4 interceptions (T-6th) and free safety Mike Adams 3 picks (T-12th).
Panthers Defensive Injuries
Listed as questionable for Week 15:
Special Teams Stats Comparison
New Orleans’ punter, Thomas Morstead, was a fifth-round draft pick back in 2009 and so far, he’s punted 31 times for a net average of 43.2 yards per punt, ranked 3rd in the league.
Carolina’s punter, Michael Palardy, in his third season as a Panther has punted 49 times for a net average of 41.0 yards per punt, ranked 11th in the NFL.
New Orleans’ placekicker, Wil Lutz, in his third season, is 25-for-26, his longest a 54-yarder.
Lutz has missed one extra point attempt (46/47).
Carolina’s placekicker, Graham Gano, was signed in 2012 after being released from the Redskins and so far he is 14-for-16, his longest was a 63-yarder.
Gano has missed three extra point attempts (30/33).
Gano (knee) is listed as questionable for Week 15, so backup kicker Chandler Catanzaro may get a chance to start.
New Orleans’ punt returner, running back Alvin Kamara, is ranked 42nd in the league in return average.
Kamara has returned 12 punts for 82 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 6.8 yards per return, his longest for 16 yards.
Carolina’s punt returner, wide receiver D.J. Moore, is ranked 57th in the league in return average.
Moore has returned 6 punts for 32 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per return, his longest was for 15 yards.
Saints–Panthers prediction and odds
The oddsmakers have the Saints favored over the Panthers by 6.5 with an over/under of 51.5.
CBSSports.com has two final score predictions:
Pete Prisco goes with the under and has it Saints 28, Panthers 20
John Breech takes the over and predicts it Saints 31, Panthers 24