Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-3, 46)
The New Orleans Saints may have seen their hopes for a No. 1 seed punctured in a lopsided loss at Seattle last week, but they'll have to regroup quickly when they host the streaking Carolina Panthers on Sunday night in a showdown for first place in the NFC South. The Saints are coming off their worst offensive performance since Sean Payton took over as coach in 2006 and now must contend with a Carolina defense that is allowing a league-low 13.1 points per game.
The Panthers surged into a tie for the division lead on the heels of an eight-game winning streak in which they have allowed only one opponent to score 20 points. Cam Newton has directed Carolina to four road victories during the eight-game run and will try to hand New Orleans it first home loss. Sunday marks the first of two matchups in three weeks between the Saints and Panthers, who are the last team to win in New Orleans (Dec. 30, 2012) and swept the season series last year.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC.
LINE: The Saints opened -4 and are now -3. The total is up from the opening 45.5.
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: Carolina (-5.5) - New Orleans (-6) + home field (-3) = New Orleans -3.5
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (9-3, 8-4 ATS): While defense has been the calling card of Carolina during its franchise-record win streak, the team has scored at least 30 points on five occasions and Newton directed late comebacks to beat New England and Miami in the last three weeks. Newton has put up modest stats in the eight-game run, failing to throw for more than 263 yards but rushing for five scores. Carolina's defense, which is second in the NFL in sacks (39) and rushing yards allowed per game (80.3), has surrendered a total of seven TDs in the last eight contests.
ABOUT THE SAINTS (9-3, 6-6 ATS): New Orleans' high-powered offense was limited to 188 total yards in the 34-7 drubbing in Seattle - the lowest total since Payton and quarterback Drew Brees arrived in New Orleans. The Saints have been a different animal on their home turf, putting up an average of 33.2 points, but tight end Benjamin Watson was quick to note: "We're going to be facing a tough defense just like we just faced in Seattle." Brees was held to 147 yards passing last week but has eclipsed 300 yards in each of the six home games this season.
* Over is 4-0 in the last four meetings.
* Panthers are 11-1 ATS in their last 12 meetings in New Orleans.
* Saints are 1-4 ATS in their last five games overall.
* Under is 7-1 in Saints last eight vs. NFC.
1. Brees needs 206 yards to reach 4,000 yards for the eighth consecutive season.
2. Panthers WR Steve Smith has three TDs and is averaging 22.8 yards a catch in the past four meetings with the Saints.
3. Saints TE Jimmy Graham has six 100-yard games this season, tying a league record for his position.