NFC Wild Card Preview: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints

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Brandon Coleman hauled in 4-of-5 targets for 44 yards in the Saints' Wild Card win over the Panthers.

The Vikings had faced all three of their potential divisional round opponents during the regular season, beating the Saints 29-19 in Week 1 and topping the Rams 24-7 in Week 11 before losing 31-24 to the Panthers on December 10. The running back tandem of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara has made life much easier on Drew Brees, who is in his 17th year in the league and 12th with the Saints.

It was a tough turn of events for Carolina, which had converted three third downs and almost capped a 63-yard drive with a touchdown before Gano's missed kick. Now, two of them will collide for the third time of the season.

Saints head coach Sean Payton almost cost his team the game when he chose to go for it on 4th & short with a 5-point lead, rather than punting the ball and trying to pin the Panther deep with less than two minutes remaining. The Panthers also converted on third-and-8 with a pass over the middle to Brenton Bersin before the drive stalled on the New Orleans 21-yard line. Not that Stewart would have saved the Panthers, but he would have allowed Mike Shula try to get the run game going, control time of possession and keep the defense fresh. The Panthers are 0-3 SU and 0-2-1 ATS in their last three postseason games away from home.

In Carolina, Christian McCaffrey has also grown with every game after a slow start to the season. Accumulating 60 yards and two rushing scores, his 97 yards were just a third of the ground production achieved by the Saints against Carolina. He exceeded 120 receiving yards in both games in 2015.

"We need to compile good series on top of good series", Panthers left guard Andrew Norwell told USA TODAY Sports. That kicked off an eight-game winning streak that would be snapped by the Los Angeles Rams.




Marshon Lattimore has emerged as a first-class safety for the New Orleans Saints. I think that is a reality.

"You're talking about one of the better tight ends in the game and so not having him is significant and having him (in the previous games) is huge", Saints coach Sean Payton said. The Bills earned their first playoff berth since 1999.

The nightcap features the fourth-seeded New Orleans Saints (11-5) and the No. 5 seed Carolina Panthers (11-5) at the Superdome.

But, for me, it all boils down to the play of the quarterbacks in this survive-and-advance game, and the clear edge goes to Brees and a defense that will tug enough times on Superman's cape.

The Panthers-Saints victor will play at Minnesota next week.

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