Co-Host of WWL's "SportsTalk with Bobby Hebert & Deke Bellavia," Weekdays 4-8PM
Deke Bellavia: Saints/Panthers Preview
by Deke Bellavia,posted Dec 8 2013 9:33AM
New Orleans Saints (9-3) vs Carolina Panthers (9-3) Sunday December 8th 7:30 Kickoff, WWL Radio Last week’s results: Seattle beat New Orleans 34-7 / Carolina beat Tampa Bay 26-7 Series History: The Panthers lead the series 19-17
What they are saying Carolina LB Luke Kuechly on the confidence the Panthers have right now
“I think as the season goes on, we’re more and more confident. The guys we picked up at the beginning of the year, we had to figure out kind of how each guy played. Now 10, 11, 12 games into the season, we’re figuring out how guys play and have a good feel for each other out there.”
Panthers Coach Ron Rivera on being called “Riverboat Ron”
“It’s unbelievable. This thing has taken on a mind of its own. It’s kind of gone all over the place and it’s one of those things that the moniker is what it is as far as trying to describe some of the decisions I’ve made. I kind of look at what I’ve done as just calculating it. But I will say this: my wife and I are going to try to figure out a way to use it to help benefit some of these charities out here that we work with. We’ve got to just keep rolling with it I guess.”
Saints Coach Sean Payton on Carolina WR Steve Smith
“He’s very competitive. We had a chance to coach him in the Pro Bowl in 2006. He has a great feel and instinct for routes. He is explosive. When I say that his stature, he is very strong in the lower body which allows him to get in and out, start and stop very quickly and change directions. He is extremely competitive. He was fantastic coaching for that one week, just working with him. He is someone that doesn’t feel the pressure. In fact I would say thrives on situations of making a play where they need it. What’s impressive is the length of his career and his ability to do the same thing. That hasn’t changed much. His skill set combined with his competitive nature and instincts have been outstanding. He will be the first to receive a retirement card from me when that happens.”
Okay, last week is over. This game is by far more important. The Saints lost the right to control their own destiny; they will not be #1 seed in the NFC. If they lose this week, the Black & Gold will lose control of having the inside track of capturing the NFC South division title as well as the #2 seed in the NFC.
Both teams are 9-3. The Saints started the season 5-0; since then New Orleans has gone 4-3. On the flip side, the Panthers got off dismal 1-3 start, but since that slow beginning Carolina is the hottest team in the league--winners of eight straight games. The Panthers have limited mistakes and played tenacious defense…thus the win streak.
On paper, this game looks as if it could be a low scoring defensive struggle. But in the past, especially at home in the Superdome, the Saints offense has a way of making opposing defensive teams look bad…real bad!
As of late, the Saints offense has struggled. Other than their blowout win over the Cowboys, the Saints offense has struggled more so in the second half of games. Against the Jets (6 points), 49ers (9 points), Atlanta (3 points) and Seattle (0 points)…the Saints offense scored only 18 points in the second half of those four games combined.
Is this a second half slump? Are teams adjusting to what the Saints strategy and play, and making necessary adjustments at halftime? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But, more times than not, the Saints offense has been far more productive and they play on another level in the Superdome.
This week’s challenge is against the league’s best defense. Carolina has arguably the best front seven in the game today. Here are a few things watch in this key NFC South tilt:
Total turnover: The Panthers rank #1 in total defense and they are tied for #4 in turnovers--an impressive +10 in the turnover margin. The Saints just can’t lose the turnover battle this week. If they do, they will probably lose this game.
Run for some more yards! The Saints looked as if they solved their running game issues after gashing the Cowboys 242 rushing yards. But since that high mark, the Saints have gained only 239 yards total in their last three games. Things won’t get any easier this week; the Cats from Charlotte have the league’s #2 rushing defense allowing only 80.3 yards per contest.
Physical D’s limit Jimmy G: He has been one of the best in the game since he arrived in the Big Easy. But when opposing teams get physical #80, Saints TE Jimmy Graham has a tougher time putting up those video game like numbers. Look for the Panthers to follow the same physical strategy as Seattle and San Francisco in defending the Saints top target.
Can I kick it? Okay, he was on fire in the Saints 23-20 win over the 49ers three weeks ago. In a game like this, Garrett Hartley will be needed. The Panthers have a defense that buckles down in the red zone and the Saints must score points when they have the opportunity. This game could very well come down to the foot of GH.
The NFC South is going to come down to the Saints and the Panthers. The #2 seed is going to come down to the Saints and the Panthers. New Orleans can take complete control of the NFC South and the race for the #2 seed with a win over Carolina.
The Saints could win this game and then go on to beat the Rams and Bucs and still lock up the #2 seed and the NFC South title even if they lose on the road to the Panthers in two weeks. But a loss to Carolina this week takes the Saints out of the driver’s seat.
No need to worry about the Seahawks. Seattle would have to collapse like the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers for the Saints to catch them. For those of you who are hoping, Seattle would have to go 1-3 and New Orleans 4-0 to catch the Seahawks for the #1 seed.
So, Who Dat Nation, focus on what you can control. The Saints can control the NFC South Title and the #2 seed. And, that will be a prime spot this post season. I think this is going to be a game much like the Saints battle with the Falcons and 49ers.
Because they are at home, I’ll go with the Saints to win. As far as the numbers, I would not be wise in telling you to lay the four points. In 12 games this season the Saints are just 6-6 against the spread.