Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints in Week 17
When: Noon Sunday
Where: Mercedes Benz Superdome
Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge; en español: WGSO-AM, 990; WVDU-FM, 97.9
Records: Saints 13-2; Panthers 6-9
Coaches: Saints, Sean Payton (118-73), 12th season; Panthers, Ron Rivera (70-56-1), 8th season
Offense: Some things have changed since the Monday night meeting between these two teams just a few days ago on Dec. 17. The most glaring difference is that the Panthers have shut down QB Cam Newton for the rest of the year because of a shoulder injury. Taylor Heinicke played quarterback in Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Falcons and struggled in his first career start. He completed 33 of 53 passes for 274 yards and threw three interceptions. He injured his left elbow in the second quarter, but returned to the game. He’s scheduled for an MRI, but if he can’t go the Panthers will likely rely on rookie Kyle Allen, who was cut from the practice squad in September before being signed again. Allen completed all four of his passes for 38 yards Sunday, but neither QB poses the running threat that Newton did. … While the quarterback has changed, the losing streak hasn’t. The Panthers have now lost seven in a row after starting the season 6-2. … One constant has been versatile RB Christian McCaffrey, the league’s fourth leading rusher (1,080 yards, 7 TDs). Perhaps more impressive is that McCaffrey is fifth in the NFL in receptions 106. The Saints held McCaffrey in check in the last game, limiting him to 53 yards on 15 carries. He caught six passes for 67 yards in the Saints’ 12-9 victory. … The receivers had several drops in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons, but the team has gotten decent production out of Jarius Wright, Curtis Samuel and rookie TE Ian Thomas. … The offensive line wasn’t great against the Falcons, giving up a pair of sacks and allowing their QB to get hit seven times Sunday. The Saints sacked Newton four times in the first game.
Defense: Much like the offense, the Panthers defense also took a big hit since the first meeting. Linebacker Shaq Thompson, who had seven tackles and half a sack in the first game and was having the best season of his career, is now on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. But the Panthers still have a pair of ball-hawking linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Kuechly is one of the league’s best. His 130 tackles this season rank fourth in the NFL. He recorded 13 tackles, including two for loss and a pass deflection in the game vs. the Saints two weeks ago. Davis had 12 tackles in that game. The Panthers’ run defense was dreadful against Atlanta on Sunday when they gave up a whopping 9.2 yards per carry (21 carries for 194 yards). It didn’t help that they were without DT Kawann Short, who was inactive because of a calf injury, the first game he’s missed in his career. … DE Julius Peppers is one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history. His 158.5 sacks ranks fourth all-time in NFL history, just 1.5 away from tying Kevin Greene for third. Mike Adams, along with a pair of former LSU standouts (Eric Reid and Donte Jackson) lead the secondary. Jackson, a rookie who attended Riverdale High School in New Orleans, has a team-best four interceptions. That doesn’t include the interception on Drew Brees on a 2-point conversion that he returned for two points in the first meeting. Adams has three interceptions. The Panthers defense could face a different looking team this time if Sean Payton decides to rest starters since the Saints have already locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Special teams: Chandler Catanzaro is 3 for 3 in his three games since signing with the Panthers. He made a 50-yarder in Sunday’s loss to the Falcons. His career best is a 60-yarder in 2016 when he played with the Arizona Cardinals. It’ll be Catanzaro’s second trip to the Dome this season. He started the season playing with Tampa Bay and was 2 of 3 on field goals while making all six extra points that day. … Michael Palardy is averaging 44.7 yards per punt. … Kenjon Barner had a 26-yard kickoff return against the Saints in the first game and averaged 27.3 yards on kickoff returns last week against the Falcons.
Follow Rod Walker on Twitter @rwalkeradvocate
Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.