Tale of the tape: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
The battle for the number two seed in the NFC is on as the Carolina Panthers (9-3) travel to the New Orleans Saints (9-3).
Here's the breakdown in our betting tale of the tape:
The Panthers rank 24th in the league in total yards and 27th in the league in passing yards. Despite their poor passing game, Carolina is 9th in the league in rushing at 129.3 yards per game. The Panthers have been productive when it matters, converting 73/158 third downs (46 percent) and 9/11 first downs (82 percent). The Panthers have been able to sustain drives and control the clock ranking first in the NFL in time of posession (33:09) and first in offensive drives that last more than five minutes (22), and boast a +10 turnover differential.
The Saints have averaged 450.8 yards per game at home and on the road have plummeted to 341.3 yards per game. When in the Superdome the Saints are beating opponents by more than two touchdowns and a fieldgoal, and on the road are actually being outscored by 3.7 points per game. Going in to Week 14, the Saints are converting 45 percent of their third downs (73/163) and only 33 percent of their fourth downs (4/12). The Saints rank third overall in pass yards (302.8), sixth in the league in offensive yards per game at 396.1 and seventh overall in points per game at 26.
Edge: New Orleans
After giving up an average of more than 400 yards in their first two losses of the season, the Panthers have surrendered an average of 274 yards over their last nine. Their defense is responsible for creating 24 turnovers tied for second highest in the league. The Panthers defense is best in the league holding teams to a miniscule 13.1 points per game. Entering Sunday's game, the Panthers defense has allowed just two first half touchdowns in 12 games, best in the NFL since 1935.
The Saints rank fourth in the league against the pass, allowing 206.7 yards per game. The Saints have not been very good against the run allowing 113.2 yards per game, ranking them 17th in the league. They are tied for fifth in the league allowing only 11 runs over 20 yards. The Saints hold their opponents to a fifth best 4.6 yards per carry average.
Carolina's kicker Graham Gano is having a Pro Bowl caliber season making 16/18 field goals, 6/6 on attempts of over 50 yards. He leads the NFL in touchbacks on kickoffs with better than 75 percent of his kicks going in to the endzone. Ted Ginn is ranked fifth in the league with a 12.9-yard punt return average. The Panthers are ranked 27th with 20.9 average yards per kick return. However they sport a much better punt return average of 10 yards, good for 11th in the league.
The Saints punter, Thomas Morstead, is ranked second in the league with a net punting average of 47.1 yards because of the great punt coverage and his big leg. Morstead has been great allowing only 121 return yards on his punts and three touchbacks. Darren Sproles only returned one punt in last week's lost to Seattle, looking to make up for lost time.
"You have to be smart with this guy. All of the pump-faking, he can get you with that. We have to make plays when they come to you." - Captain Munnerlyn on Drew Brees
"I think on the turf it helps in terms of their timing because they have an indoor facility as well, they practice on turf. And turf does make a difference because of the timing. It's a little faster paced as far as running routes and stuff like that." - Ron Rivera on the Saints dominance in the Superdome.