Two weeks ago, the Panthers traveled to New Orleans and were beaten in pretty much every phase of the game, the final score was not as close as what was reflected on the scoreboard. My how things have changed in only two weeks.
For all intents and purposes, the playoffs start this Sunday for the Saints and the Panthers. Besides the NFC South title being on the line, the winning team will also be in position to claim the #2 seed in the NFC playoff bracket. It’s probably not, loser go home, as a loss will not eliminate either team from possibly making the playoffs as a wildcard. But the advantages between being the #2 seed with a bye week vs being a wildcard team and having to travel and win on the road are to great to count.
Much has already been written about the changes Payton has made on the Saints after the loss to the Rams last week. Every player on the Saints team received a wake-up call when Hartley was released and Brown was benched.
He said after the game on Sunday that their would be changes, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that Payton made changes just for the sake of shaking things (and players) up. The move to replace Brown was a long time in coming, he had the most penalties of any player on the Saints year to date, 9 of the 11 penalties were of the drive killing assortment (holding, hands to the face), so there was purpose to the benching.
Payton did not make the changes without thinking them through and the approach to the game will be well thought out, too much is on the line and the message to the players, if they didn’t already know it is that you have to show up ready to play, whether it’s on the road or at home.
To say Carolina has been on a roll is an understatement. Their game last week against the Jets was a must win game for them and they came through with a win. They did what teams are supposed to do in that situation.
For Carolina to win they have to forget what happened in the Dome two weeks ago and concentrate on keeping their league leading time of possession offense on the field and keeping the Saints offense on the sideline.
On Defense they will need to do a better job at covering receivers not named Graham than they did two weeks ago. Colston came up with big play after big play while the Panthers defense was concentrating on not letting Jimmy Graham beat them.
This game isn’t going to be about which team is the most talented, or who the home team is, or even who has the best game plan. This game will be decided by the team that comes out with the biggest baddest junkyard dog mentality. The Panthers are playing for 1st place in the division, the Saints are as well but they are also playing to prove that they can win on the road and their backs are against the wall. It will be close but the Saints will win 24-21
Bill Stephens, SaintsGab writer, Follow Saints Gab on twitter @SaintsGab