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Panthers Look to End Season on High Note

Sharon Thorsland
December 28, 2018 - 11:41 am

It's the season finale for the Panthers, who head to New Orleans to take on their NFC South rival for the second time in 13 days. After last week's loss to Atlanta, the playoffs are no longer in the picture for the Panthers. But the Saints are marching into the postseason with a 13-2 record after last week's win over the Steelers. They own the number one seed in the NFC and home field advantage that comes with it, plus a first-round bye.

That means both teams could feature new starting quarterbacks Sunday. Cam Newton is still sidelined with a shoulder injury, and backup Taylor Heinicke landed on I-R after injuring his elbow in last week's loss to the Falcons. So the Panthers will have undrafted rookie Kyle Allen under center. And the Saints will likely rest starter Drew Brees for most of the game, so former Viking Teddy Bridgewater could see his first significant minutes since injuring his knee nearly three seasons ago.  Second-year player Taysom Hill could also get some reps.

It really doesn't matter who the Saints quarterback is – they'll still have plenty of weapons at their disposal. Third year receiver Michael Thomas is the go-to guy, leads the NFL with 120 catches for 1376 yards and nine touchdowns. Former Panther Ted Ginn, Jr. is back from a stint on I-R and remains one of the fastest receivers in the league. And rookie Trequan Smith is averaging nearly 16 yards a catch.

The Saints most dangerous weapon is running back Alvin Kamara. The second-year player is a dual threat – he's got 883 rushing yards and 81 receptions and 18 touchdowns. He teams with veteran Mark Ingram to form one of the best tandems in the league. They'll face a Panther defense that has been solid against the run, allowing just 108 yards per game, that's 10th in the NFL.

One of the best matchups of the game could be Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers 4th ranked rushing attack versus the Saints rushing defense, which ranks number one in the NFL allowing just 78 yards per game.

The Saints get after the quarterback as well, they've got 48 sacks on the season, that's third in the league. Twelve of those belong to Pro Bowl defensive end Cam Jordan. Tackle Sheldon Rankins has eight sacks, while veteran linebacker Demario Davis leads the team in tackles. And keep an eye out for former Panther linebacker A.J. Klein, who starts on the other side.

The Saints aren't so good against the pass, which should be good news for Kyle Allen and the Panthers. The Saints allow 269 yards per game through the air, that's 28th in the league.

But they've got one of the best young cornerbacks in the game in Marshon Lattimore. The reigning defensive rookie of the year has two interceptions and four forced fumbles on the season. Former Giant Eli Apple starts on the other side, and former Panther Kurt Coleman starts at safety.

This game might not have any postseason implications, but that doesn't mean it's not an important game for the Panthers. It's against a division rival, one who has beaten them four straight times, including that 12-9 loss in Carolina just two weeks ago.

And guys want to snap their seven-game losing streak and end the season on a high note. “We're going to finish the best way we know how,” said defensive end Wes Horton.

“Our motto is 'Keep Pounding' and we're going to keep pounding until the end.”

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