It's Week #13 in the National Football League's 2017 regular season, and the 12th game of what has so far been a very successful 51st season in team history for the New Orleans Saints — but their game this Sunday at home against NFC South Division rival Carolina, may be the biggest and most important game that they'll play all year.
A win for (8-3) New Orleans this Sunday would essentially give them a 2-game lead over the (8-3) Panthers, since they would have a "season sweep" over Carolina for the first time since the 2011 season, the last year that the Saints won the division title.
However, a loss by the Saints to the Panthers would give Carolina a one-game lead over New Orleans, while maintaining at least a one-game lead (plus the tie-breaker) over the Atlanta Falcons as well; and thus leave the Panthers in the proverbial "driver's seat" as the season winds down towards a climatic ending on New Year's Eve.
So as you can plainly see: the games that are played in today's modern NFL in 2017, don't get any more critical than this Sunday's "rematch", from the first time that these two teams met earlier this season back in Week #3 (a 37-14 Saints win at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina).
With that in mind, here are the Saints New Network's 5 "bold" predictions, for this Sunday's monumental match-up vs. the Carolina Panthers inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.........
#5. WITH TENSIONS RISING AND THE "TRASH TALKING" FOR THIS GAME ALREADY AT A FEVER-PITCH, THE SAINTS AND PANTHERS PRE-GAME WARM-UPS NEARLY TURN INTO A FULL-FLEDGED STREET-FIGHT PRIOR TO KICKOFF
The build-up to this Sunday's "rematch" at the Superdome actually began way back in Charlotte, North Carolina after the Saints' dominant 34-13 win over the Panthers in Week #3, when Saints defensive end Cam Jordan said this to reporters afterwards in the locker room while referencing Panthers QB Cam Newton’s clothing choices and what he saw as a misguided attempt by the Panthers to turn Newton into a quarterback who mostly stays in the pocket and throws the ball:
“Clearly, he’s trying to be more of a pocket passer and I’m OK with it,” Jordan said, smiling, after a game in which he sacked Newton once and New Orleans intercepted Newton three times. “Perfectly fine with it.”
Jordan also said at the time that anytime Newton ran the ball the Saints “showed up on his high heels.”
“Not that he wears high heels,” Jordan said. “I don’t think so yet, right? I mean he’s gone with the grandma hat and the onesie. The Coachella onesie?”
When told that outfit from Newton was a “romper,”a loose unitard-like garment typically worn by women that has lately been released in men’s sizes and styles, Jordan replied:
“Oh, the romper, the romp-him? We romped him.”
Now while Jordan was only having a little fun at Newton's expense, you can bet that the Panthers haven't forgotten about Jordan's post-game comments or the ASS-WHIPPING put on them that day in their own "house", by the Saints.
That was evidenced by this past Sunday's post-game comments by Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers after their win over the Jets. Said Peppers when asked if the Panthers would be prepared to do battle for NFC South supremacy in this Sunday's crucial contest between division rivals:
“We’ll be ready,” Peppers said smiling.
When asked to elaborate further on his feelings about facing the Saints and the Panthers' chances of getting out of New Orleans with a win, Peppers said he wasn’t about to offer any predictions.
“I’m just saying,” Peppers repeated, “we’ll be ready.”
That will definitely turn out to be the case, when the two teams are taking the field in Pre-Game warm-ups — and some back-and-forth "trash talking" leads to several players from both sides getting up in each other's faces, before having to be separated by game officials and members of the NFL Security team assigned to the game.
#4. FRESH OFF A WHIRLWIND INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE IN LAST WEEK'S GAME AGAINST THE RAMS, ROOKIE SAINTS RUNNING BACK ALVIN KAMARA HAS THE GAME OF HIS LIFE AGAINST THE PANTHERS
Saints rookie running back Alvin Kamara has obviously taken the entire League by storm with his dazzling and incredibly dynamic display of both balance and agility to make plays; and has now emerged as the current favorite (with 5 games left) to become 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year.
Kamara is the NFL’s best running back in terms of yards per carry, averaging a league-high 7.1 yards every time he runs the ball, the only player to average more than 7 yards a pop in that category. He has 546 total rushing yards in on 77 carries and has scored 5 TD's on the ground.
Additionally, he’s added 548 yards and 4 more TD's as a receiver coming out of the back-field, for a grand total of 1,094 scrimmage yards.
He was at it again during the Saints’ 26-20 loss against the Rams, when he caught 6 passes for 101 yards and a TD reception, and rushed for 87 yards —including a 74-yard run that he took all the way "to the house" for another score.
But he'll top that in this coming Sunday's rematch against the Panthers, when Saints head coach Sean Payton decides to ride the "hot hand" and gives Kamara a total of 22 touches: 15 carries for 121 yards that includes a breath-taking 67-yard run after he breaks two tackle attempts by both Panthers All-Pro LB's Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, and 7 receptions for another 95 yards which includes a 22-yard TD reception to open the day's scoring.
#3. AFTER "STRUGGLING" VS. THE RAMS LAST WEEK, SAINTS QUARTERBACK DREW BREES AND THE SAINTS PASSING ATTACK BOUNCE BACK STRONGLY AGAINST THE PANTHERS
This past Sunday out in Los Angeles wasn't the typical Drew Brees performance that Saints fan have grown accustomed to over the last decade; and it was clearly one of those rare occasions where he wasn't quite "on his game".
Brees simply "misfired" on a number of throws that he can typically make with his eyes closed if he wanted to, but just seemed to be out of sync — and credit both the Rams defensive line and secondary (along with their legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips) for that.
Brees was also fortunate not to have been intercepted, as he tried to force the ball into some tight windows that were a result of the Saints WR's inability to create separation.
In all, it was a tough day at the office for Brees even though his final stats (268 passing yards, 101.8 QB Rating) didn't reflect it.
However, Brees won't face any similar issues this Sunday as the Saints return home to face the Panthers in what might be the biggest game of the season for New Orleans.
In a "bounce back" performance by Brees and the Saints passing attack, the 17th year veteran passes for 336 yards and 3 TD passes, as the Saints offense amasses over 500 plus yards of total offense on the day.
#2. THE SAINTS DEFENSE IS FIRED UP AT HOME — AND TURNS "SUPERMAN" CAM NEWTON INTO "CLARK KENT"
The Saints defense actually didn't play all that bad of a game against the Rams, but were left vulnerable and definitely exposed in the secondary with the absences of both starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley.
Their statuses for this Sunday's game won't be known until later in the week, but regardless of whether they play or not, the Saints will be fired up for this game with everything that's at stake, and comfortable in the knowledge that if they can stop Panthers QB Cam Newton from beating them with his feet, then chances are that he definitely won't be able to beat them throwing the ball.
In the loss to the Saints back in Week #3, Newton was 17 out of 26 for 167 yards with zero TD's and 3 interceptions for a QB rating of an abysmal 43.8; in what may have been one of the worst performances of his 7-year NFL career.
And now he comes into this Sunday's rematch without his former #1 WR (Kelvin Benjamin, who was since traded to Buffalo) and possibly his favorite target (TE Greg Olsen, who is questionable this week).
If that wasn't bad enough, Carolina will have no chance to beat the Saints this coming Sunday if Newton throws the ball as poorly as he did against the Jets (11-for-28 for 168 yards) last Sunday in a game where it seemed that Newton’s injured right thumb was affecting his accuracy.
But in this game, it won't matter — as a fired up Saints defense that's given a boost by a sold-out and deafening Superdome home crowd hits and harasses Newton all game long; sacking him 4 times, along with 8 QB "hits", 12 QB pressures, intercepts him twice, and limits him to 51 yards rushing on 8 carries.
And on this day: the Saints defense turns "Superman" back into his human alter ego, "Clark Kent".
#1. AS THE GAME ENTERS DEEP INTO THE 4TH QUARTER, THE CRITICAL REMATCH OF THESE TWO NFC SOUTH DIVISION RIVALS IS TIED UP AT 20-20, WHEN..........
As typical NFC South contests do, the game has turned into a battle of attrition — in which the winner will be the "last man standing" (or the last team in this case) at the end.
A 50-yard Graham Gano field goal for the Panthers has just tied the game at 20 points apiece, when the Saints receive the ball on the ensuing kickoff.
But Saints WR / KR Tommylee Lewis, after breaking into the clear and appears to be headed for a huge kickoff return, is hit from behind and coughs up the football; and the Panthers recover the ball at the Saints 40 yard line and suddenly are in position to take the lead.
But a run by RB Johnathan Stewart goes for no gain, and a Newton pass intended for WR Devin Funchess is nearly picked off by Saints rookie free safety Marcus Williams; leaving the Panthers with a 3rd-down-and-10 to go as the clock has now wound down to inside of 5 minutes remaining.
As Newton drops back to pass on the critical 3rd down, WHAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! he's hit from behind out of nowhere by a blitzing Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, who knocks the ball loose from Newton's grasp from the sheer intensity of the hit itself, and it's recovered by Saints DT Tyeler Davison at their own 45 (not far from where they gave the ball up on the Lewis fumble, from the kickoff return a few minutes earlier).
The Saints then go on a methodical drive that takes them all the way down to the Panthers 22-yard line as the 2-minute warning arrives.
On the very NEXT play following the 2-minute warning, Brees connects with a wide open Brandon Coleman — who has slipped past his man and is uncovered near the goal line when he hauls in the reception from Brees, much to the delight of the Superdome crowd.