The New Orleans Saints (11-4) travel to Charlotte, NC to battle the Carolina Panthers (5-10) Sunday afternoon. With a victory, the Black and Gold will become the first team in NFC South history to sweep all three of their divisional opponents in one season and keep their hopes for the NFC's top seed alive.
Despite Carolina's injury-filled roster, New Orleans will have to bring their "A-Game" against their long time foes. Here are three players who could prove to be a difference-maker in the Saints' final regular-season battle of 2020.
OFFENSIVE X-FACTOR: WR MARQUEZ CALLAWAY
The undrafted wide receiver, Marquez Callaway, has received high praise this week from teammate and two-time Pro-Bowl selection Emmanuel Sanders. “Marquez Callaway, you know, I'm telling you guys, you got to remember his name,” Sanders said. “If the guy stays healthy, he's going to be a special player in this league. And he's not even close to hitting his peak.”
Callaway's NFL breakout came in Week 5 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Since his injury and trip to injured reserve, some have forgotten about the Tennessee product. Head coach Sean Payton has drawn some comparisons to another #12 he coached, Saints great wide receiver Marques Colston.
Wide receivers Michael Thomas and Tre'Quan Smith are out in the regular-season finale versus Carolina, Callaway will have an opportunity to show his value in the Saints' offense as their #2 wideout.
DEFENSIVE X-FACTOR: DE CAMERON JORDAN
The six-time Pro-Bowl selection needs 2.5 sacks on Sunday to reach double-digit sacks for the 4th consecutive season but could be without his running mate Trey Hendrickson who ranks 3rd in the NFL with 12.5 sacks this season. Jordan has recorded 2+ sacks in a single game just once this season. That performance came against the Atlanta Falcons, where he recorded 3 sacks on 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan.
On Sunday, Jordan faces a former teammate quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, for the second time this season after failing to record a sack in the first matchup. Teddy B may be without his top two running backs on Sunday, putting more pressure on him to push the ball down the field against the Saints' top 5 overall defense. Expect Jordan to wreak havoc on the Saints' division rivals and end the regular season on a high note.
WILD CARD X-FACTOR: LATAVIUS MURRAY
Until his 72-yard performance last week against the Vikings, it had been a quiet stretch for Latavius Murray, who had just 8 carries in Week 14 and 15 combined. The 2016 Pro-Bowl selection has shown his worth to New Orleans throughout this season, ranking 25th in the league in rushing yards while averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
New Orleans ran wild on Christmas Day, racking up over 225-yards and has proven how dangerous the offense can be when they run the ball effectively. It is vital to the Saints' playoff run that Murray continues his hard-nosed running between the tackles as a change of pace back to the ever electric Alvin Kamara.
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