The New Orleans Saints went on the road and pummeled the Carolina Panthers 42-10 on Sunday to finish their regular season with a 13-3 record. The Saints tied their best record in franchise history and notched their third straight division crown earlier this year, also a franchise first. The Saints will not have a week to rest before commencing their championship pursuit, and will instead prepare to host the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday. Here were some of the major storylines to come out of their regular season finale against Carolina.
1. OFFENSIVE ROLL
The New Orleans offense is riding high heading into the postseason. The Saints scored over 30 points an NFL-high eleven times this year, hitting the mark in five of their last six games. In the opening half New Orleans rolled up 266 yards, 20 first downs, and a team-record 35 first half points against the Panthers. On a day when wide receiver Michael Thomas, the new NFL record holder for receptions in a season, had a season low 4 catches and 37 yards, the Saints proved that they were more than a one man show.
QB Drew Brees has averaged 328 passing yards in the nine full games he has played in 2019, throwing 27 touchdown passes and just 4 interceptions. Running back, Alvin Kamara has scored 4 touchdowns in the last two games and is fully recovered from injuries that slowed him at mid-season. Kamara is complimented by RB Latavius Murray, who has shown himself capable of shouldering the load if Kamara is contained. TE Jared Cook has evolved into a lethal compliment to Thomas in the passing game and WR Tre'Quan Smith is getting more involved in the offense. New Orleans has dominated opponents because of their talented offensive line, which has multiple Pro Bowl caliber players. Guards Larry Warford and Andrus Peat returned to the lineup from injury against Carolina, giving the team their starting five intact at just the right time.
2. DEFENSIVE MISSION
A defense that was missing three starters in its secondary and two along the defensive line dominated a lethargic Carolina offense from the start. The Panthers provided little threat through the air, but New Orleans still pressured the quarterback well, came up with big plays in the secondary, and shut down the running game.
The Saints have been able to contain some of the league’s better offenses over the last two years. They are just as capable of winning a game with their defense as they are with their balanced and star-studded offense. A secondary battered by injuries must rise to the occasion on the biggest stage. But this Saints defense has shown itself to be deep and able to make big plays at crucial moments all season.
3. NFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
Despite having the second best record in the NFL and top mark in their conference, the Saints will play in the wild card round next week. They will host the sixth seeded Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The top two spots in the NFC, and a bye next week, belong to the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. The other NFC first round matchup pits the Seattle Seahawks at the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Saints are set to travel to Green Bay to face the second seeded Packers if they hold serve at home against the Vikings. New Orleans could host the NFC title game if they win those two games and the winner of the Seahawks/Eagles game would defeat the 49ers in the divisional round. Otherwise, the road to Miami and Super Bowl LIV would involve two road trips.
4. ROAD WARRIORS
New Orleans has an undeserved reputation of not being able to win outside the confines of the Mercedes Benz Superdome. They will host the wild-card game next Sunday but if victorious face the prospect of having to win on the road at least once, at Green Bay, and perhaps twice to advance to the Super Bowl.
The Saints improved their road record to 14-2 over the last two years on Sunday, including 7-1 away from home this season. Coach Sean Payton has constructed a squad capable of winning in any venue against any style of the opponent. If New Orleans is to add a second championship trophy, they must now prove that they can do just that through the playoffs.