Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints: Wild Card Betting Advice

The Spread and Total

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-7, O/U 48), courtesy of sportsbetting.ag.

Division rivals meet in the playoffs after New Orleans swept the regular-season series with Carolina. The Saints had an opportunity to clinch the NFC South last week but lost to Tampa Bay. The Panthers could have stolen the division crown away, but lost to Atlanta, giving the Saints the title and this home game.

Records/Standings

Carolina Panthers: 11-5 SU (9-7 ATS); 2nd NFC South
New Orleans Saints: 11-5 SU (8-8 ATS); 1st NFC South

Key Injuries and Absences

Carolina Panthers

WR Devin Funchess (shoulder), questionable; T Matt Kalil (illness), questionable.

New Orleans Saints
DE Trey Hendrickson (ankle), questionable; T Terron Armstead (thigh), questionable.

Recent Head-to-Head

  • Dec. 3, 2017 (Mercedes-Benz Superdome): New Orleans 31, Carolina 21
  • Sept. 24, 2017 (Bank of America Stadium): New Orleans 34, Carolina 13
  • Nov. 17, 2016 (Bank of America Stadium): Carolina 23, New Orleans 20
  • Oct. 16, 2016 (Mercedes-Benz Superdome): New Orleans 41, Carolina 38

Significant Betting Trends

  • In each of the Panthers’ five losses this year, they have failed to cover.
  • Carolina is 5-2 overall and against the spread as an underdog this season.
  • After five straight games went over the total, Carolina has gone under in the last two.
  • New Orleans covered in both meetings between these teams this year and both games hit the over.
  • As a favorite this season, the Saints are 7-4 ATS.
  • When the total has been less than 50 points this season, New Orleans has gone over six times in eight tries.
  • There have been 48 points or more scored in 12 of the last 13 Saints playoff games dating back to the 1992 season.
  • New Orleans has won seven straight home games.
  • The Panthers went 5-3 straight up and against the spread on the road during the regular season.

The Matchup

The Saints and Panthers have met 36 times and let’s just say it’s been a tight rivalry. Carolina leads the series 24-22, and has outscored New Orleans by just a single point (1,014-1,013). This is their first ever meeting in the postseason, surprisingly, and it comes on the heels of two decisive New Orleans wins during the regular season.

After an 0-2 start (against arguably the two best teams in the league: Minnesota and New England), the Saints were desperate for a win when they arrived in Charlotte in late September. After allowing just six total points over the first two games of the year, Carolina gave up 34 in Week 3 (a 34-13 Saints victory). While New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees completed 22 of 29 passes for 220 yards and three scores, Carolina’s Cam Newton was just 17 of 26 for 167 yards with three interceptions. Both teams converted half of their third down attempts, but New Orleans outgained Carolina by a hefty margin (362-288).

Panther mistakes and misses helped the Saints beat Carolina 31-21 on December 3. The Saints scored a touchdown shortly after a botched Carolina punt, and they kicked a field goal after the Panthers fumbled during a punt return. With Carolina playing from behind in the fourth quarter, Newton hit Devin Funchess short of the sticks on a 4th-and-6, and the big-bodied receiver couldn’t pick up the necessary yardage. That was just one of questionable decisions Newton and company made that day. He wound up going 17 of 27 for just 183 yards and two TDs, but watched his counterpart, Brees, go 25 of 34 for 269 yards and a major, and New Orleans once against crush Carolina in the yardage department (400-279).

Looking back at the start of the season, the Saints’ two-score losses to Minnesota (road) and New England (home) no longer feel all that bad. After beating the Panthers for their first win, the Saints reeled off seven more victories. But the only win over another playoff team during that string was at Buffalo. During the last six weeks, New Orleans is 3-3, with wins over the Panthers, Jets, and Falcons (all at home) and losses to the Rams, Falcons, and Bucs (all on the road).

New Orleans Saints RB Mark Ingram
Saints RB Mark Ingram (Keith Allison via FLICKR https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/22658667249)

Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay can be looked at in two different ways for the Saints. Despite a 5-11 final record, and five straight losses entering Week 17, the Bucs were much improved down the stretch. They played one- games in four straight weeks, took the Falcons and Panthers to the wire, and were clearly not just playing out the string when they upset New Orleans, 31-24. On the flip side, the Saints plastered Tampa Bay in their first meeting, led most of the way against the Bucs in Week 17, and gave up two long scoring drives in the final seven minutes with a chance to sew up the division.

When New Orleans held onto a 24-23 lead after the Bucs settled for a field goal on a 10-play drive with 4:31 left, it seemed like the Saints would survive. They needed a few first downs, or a defensive stop, to win the game. Instead, the Saints got one first down and drove into Bucs territory, but Brees was sacked on 34rd-and-10 and they had to punt. Taking over at their own five-yard line, the Bucs threw three straight incompletions, but Tampa Bay moved the chains on fourth down, rallied into Saints territory, and with less than 10 seconds to go hit on a 39-yard touchdown pass to win the game. Despite committing three of the games four turnovers, Tampa Bay won thanks in large part to outgaining the Saints 455-323. The Bucs were an incredible 13 for 18 on third down too.

That has been a reoccurring trend for New Orleans. Opponents covert on 41% of third-down tries against the Saints defense, sixth-worst in the NFL. The Saints defense more opportunistic than steady, piling up 20 interceptions this season, third-most in the NFL.

It seems likely that turnovers will play a big role in Sunday’s match-up. Newton has thrown 16 INTs this year, the second-most in the league, and his highest total since his rookie campaign. This year the Panthers are 0-4 when he throws more than one pick. When he throws one or zero, they are 11-1.

The Panthers went into last week knowing they’d need to win and get help in order to host a playoff game. However, the first part of the equation, beating Atlanta, never came to fruition. After playing to a 7-7 stalemate in the first half, Atlanta kicked five second-half field goals and the Panthers were held to three points in a 22-10 setback. Newton threw three second-half interceptions and went just 14 of 34 on pass attempts. Atlanta did not turn the ball over and outgained Carolina 371-248.

Carolina can take some comfort from the fact that running back Jonathan Stewart did not play in Week 17. Though Newton ultimately led the team in rushing yards, Stewart led the team in attempts by a wide margin (198) and the Panthers went 8-1 when they rushed for at least 115 yards. That lone loss did come to the Saints, however.

The Panthers began the season 4-1 with an impressive win at New England. After losses to the Eagles and Bears, Carolina put together four more wins, including one over a playoff team (Falcons). Following the second loss to New Orleans, Carolina beat the Vikings, Packers (with Aaron Rodgers), and Bucs before last Sunday’s loss in Atlanta. They played the second-most difficult schedule this year among teams that qualified for the postseason and ultimately went 4-4 overall against fellow playoff teams.

If the game comes down to special teams, both New Orleans and Carolina kick the ball reasonably well, but the Saints have the better return units, particularly in the punting game.

Betting Advice/Pick

Sean Payton and Brees are four-for-four in playoff games at home with two blowouts and two tight wins. The Saints are understandably the favorite in this game, but by picking them to cover by nearly a touchdown, you are essentially betting on Newton throwing multiple interceptions. That may happen, but more often that not, it doesn’t, so we’re taking the Panthers plus the points.

As for the total, it isn’t that high. These teams both have had ups and downs, and both defenses are solid, but 27-24 or 30-24 appears to be a fairly likely result.

Pick: Panthers (+7) and OVER (48)