The 5-5 Carolina Panthers, on a two game losing streak lost last Sunday at home in a upset to the Atlanta Falcons 29-3. This week they go away to a team posing much more of a threat in the 8-2 New Orleans Saints.
The Falcons are putting together a mini revival as of late, the week before they also beat the Saints 26-9. Last week the Saints bounced back from that defeat on the road beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-17.
Carolina are three games behind the Saints in the NFC South, a loss would all but guarantee they would miss out on the playoffs.
A loss would put the Panthers four games behind in the division and with the NFC wild card spots occupied by two eight win teams also, it looks to be one hurdle too many with only five games left after this Sunday.
The Saints defense out performing the offense
The Saints are normally associated with big offensive numbers, future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees is the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards, he and New England's Tom Brady are currently chasing down Peyton Manning for the all-time touchdown record.
However it may surprise you that the 8-2 Saints have an offense ranked only 14th in the NFL this season.
Brees did get injured in week two, only returning three games ago in week eight. During that spell on the sidelines the Saints won all six games with Teddy Bridgewater at QB.
In two of those games the Saints only put 12 and 13 points on the board in victories against Dallas Cowboys on September 29th and Jacksonville Jaguars on October 13th.
The fact the Saints were able to win games scoring so few points shows us a different side to New Orleans. The Saints are ranked sixth in total defense, conceding on average 19.9 points per game.
Standing out on the defensive side of the ball are safety Marcus Williams, third in the league in interceptions with four, one returned for a TD and defensive end Cameron Jordan with 9.5 sacks, putting him sixth in that category.
Despite Brees' missing a lot of play, wide receiver Michael Thomas leads the NFL in receptions (94) and receiving yards (1,141). Brees will look to Thomas for a big contribution against Carolina.
Since Brees' return New Orleans have went 2-1, the Saints should feel confident that they can add to that with a win and put the NFC South title out of Carolina's reach.
How can the Panthers come away with the victory?
A highlight of Carolina's season is of course the play of exciting all-purpose running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey leads the league in rushing yards with 1,059, he is also in a three way tie in rushing TD's with 11.
McCaffrey's run of seven consecutive games with a TD ended last week against the Falcons as Carolina were held to just a fourth quarter field goal.
Despite that, McCaffrey still managed to contribute 191 all-purpose yards, rushing 14 times for 70 yards while also playing a big part in the passing came catching 11 passes for 121 yards.
D.J. Moore also had a good game catching eight times for 95 yards.
QB Kyle Allen had 325 yards from 31 for 50 passing, crucially though he threw four interceptions and was sacked five times.
Three of those four interceptions came with the Panthers within 25 yards of the end zone, the first was early in the second quarter with Carolina inside the red zone 10-0 down, the second came with seconds left in the first half with the Panthers 20-0 down, the third came with 4:41 left of the game too far behind to make an impact.
Certainly had the red zone interception turned out differently it may have turned the tide of the game, only 10-0 down at this point.
New Orleans will feel confident they can nullify McCaffrey's running with their defense ranked third against the run, allowing just 85.3 yards per game.
If New Orleans can stop the run then the pressure will be on the Panthers offensive line to do a better job of protecting Allen and in turn he will need to do a better job of protecting the ball.
If Allen can protect the ball better then with the receivers Carolina have on show we could be in for a shootout.
Carolina though will be hoping for the New Orleans offense that turned up two weeks ago and only put nine points on the Falcons.