Carolina (7-8) at New Orleans (10-5) Sunday 1:00 pm EST
NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- The fans in New Orleans will get to
celebrate on Sunday in the regular-season finale. Then they
will get treated to a home playoff game.
The Saints face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, two weeks
before they host a divisional playoff game.
New Orleans sealed a first-round bye when Dallas lost to
Philadelphia on Monday.
The Panthers may still have a shot at the last NFC wild-card
spot when they take the field, but only if the New York Giants
lose at Washington on Saturday night.
If the Giants lose, the Panthers need to beat the Saints and
have the Green Bay Packers lose at Chicago on Sunday night.
This scenario would have been unfathomable at the start of the
season. The Saints finished in last place in the NFC South with
a 3-13 record last season after being displaced by Hurricane
Katrina while the Panthers reached the NFC championship game.
The additions of quarterback Drew Brees and Heisman
Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush along with the return of
running back Deuce McAllister, who suffered a torn ACL last
season, was supposed to improve the Saints. But no one expected
rookie coach Sean Payton to guide them to a division title.
The Panthers were picked by many to reach Super Bowl XLI this
season. But Carolina has played without starting quarterback
Jake Delhomme (sprained thumb ligament) for the last three weeks.
Backup quarterback Chris Weinke attempted just seven passes, but
the Panthers snapped a four-game losing streak with a 10-3 win
at Atlanta last week. DeShaun Foster and rookie DeAngelo
Williams combined to rush for 184 yards and Carolina limited the
Falcons to eight first downs and 177 total yards.
Bush rushed for a season-high 126 yards and a touchdown and
McAllister added 108 yards and a score as the Saints rolled to a
30-7 victory over the New York Giants last week. New Orleans
held the Giants to 142 total yards and six first downs.
Bush has rushed for 545 yards and caught 86 passes for 729 yards
this season. McAllister eclipsed 1,000 yards (1,057) for the
fourth time and Brees leads the NFC with a quarterback rating of
96.1, completing 64 percent of his passes for 4,372 yards and
26 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
The Panthers posted a 21-18 victory over the Saints in the first
meeting on October 1.
Delhomme hit Drew Carter with a four-yard touchdown pass and
Foster scored on a 43-yard run in the fourth quarter to lead
Brees completed 28-of-38 passes for 349 yards without a
turnover. His favorite target was rookie Marques Colston, who
had five catches for 132 yards and a touchdown.
A seventh-round pick from Hofstra, Colston has 70 catches for
1,038 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Saints have had an unbelievable year as they gear toward the playoffs, while the Panthers have been disappointing throughout the season. Saints head coach Sean Payton will rely on QB Drew Brees and the quick, controlled passing attack to set up the run against a Panthers defense that will focus on shutting down run lanes and attacking the pocket in passing situations. Brees exploited this defense in Week 4.