Can you believe we are already in week 16? Time flies when you're having fun and the home team is winning ballgames. Things haven't been pretty the last couple of weeks in Seattle and St. Louis, but a win at Carolina secures the Saints with the NFC South division crown and the #2 seed in the NFC postseason.
I'm still not sold on the Panthers offense and see the Saints pulling out the victory. They haven't lost back-to-back games under Sean Payton since 2009 for crying out loud.
PREDICTION: SAINTS 27 - PANTHERS 23
Now here's who I'll be watching on game day:
LT Terron Armstead
What a game to get your first career NFL start at left tackle. Armstead faces a Panthers defense that is 2nd in the league in sacks, with 45, as he's been tabbed to replace Charles Brown. The rookie was the Saints 3rd round draft pick out of Arkansas Pine Bluff and will be counted upon to protect Drew Brees' blindside in a game where the stakes are high.
LB Junior Galette
"The Beard" was kryptonite to "Super Cam" in that Sunday night beat down in the Superdome tallying 3 sacks. He's hungry for a second helping of some Newton, but like the team, Galette has been more effective at home than on the road. Out of his 9 sacks this season just 1 has come on the road. I want to see if Galette will show up big in a game they need his pass rushing ability the most.
K Shayne Graham
It will be very interesting to see how Graham does in his first action of the season. I feel like the fluidity involved between snap, hold and kick has to be difficult to develop some sort of chemistry in just a couple of days. The good news is that Graham has been a pro kicker for 13 years. So, he should be fine getting acclimated to things here. This game just may come down to a last second field goal, so we may get to find out just how clutch Graham can be now.
DE Greg Hardy
Hardy is 2nd on the team in sacks with 8 this season and I'm curious to see how his match-up against the rookie LT Armstead goes. In week 14, Hardy did not take down Brees once and will be licking his chops going up against some fresh meat. If the Saints are forced to provide Armstead with a little more help against Hardy, that could mean the Panthers' sack leader Charles Johnson could end up having a monster day.
RB DeAngelo Williams
After seeing Zac Stacy run all over the Saints defense last week, ANY running back would be on my watch list versus the Black & Gold this week. Williams has averaged 84 yards in his previous 13 games against New Orleans along with 7 touchdowns. He is also a receiving threat out of the backfield.
With teammate Jonathan Stewart sidelined with a knee injury, Williams will get the majority of the workload in the backfield and still has quite the speed burst at age 30.
See here: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-KiAuhUxPgFA/Uq4pF_9YhVI/AAAAAAAAEzQ/Lat8fzh3FAo/s400/williams.gif
LB Luke Kuechly
I slobbered all over Kuechly in my write-up for the last game between these two and just couldn't help it; I had to mention him again. In his 2nd year in the pros he has established himself as one of the top middle linebackers in the NFL. He leads one of the best, if not the best front sevens in the league. Kuechly will have his hands full in this one, as he will likely be given the daunting task of trying to contain Jimmy Graham. Carolina did not stop Graham last time out, as the Saints TE managed 6 catches for 58 yards and 2 scores.
MY SAINTS VIEDO OF THE WEEK: