Two weeks ago, the New Orleans Saints made a statement to not only the NFC South, but the rest of the conference as a whole. With a primetime beat down over the Carolina Panthers in week 14, the Saints made it clear that they should be favored in their division. Fast forward to week 17, and these two teams gave us a very different outcome.
With 1st place in the division on the line, both teams came out and clobbered each other defensively. Oddly enough, the Saints out-gained the Panthers 365-222 offensively. Drew Brees tossed a touchdown to Jimmy Graham and finished with 281 yards on the day. Other than his one touchdown, though, he did turn the ball over twice — that would prove to be the big difference in this one.
On Carolina’s final possession of the game, down 13-10, Cam Newton led the Panthers on a game-winning touchdown drive with a pass to wideout Domenik Hixon. The Panthers punted a total of eight times in this contest, but ultimately Newton came through when it mattered most — a true clutch gene was on display for the rest of the NFC to see.
With the 17-13 victory, Carolina moves into the second overall seed in the conference and knocks New Orleans down to the sixth and final seed in the NFC. If Carolina wins out and grabs a division title, they will have home-field advantage in the second round and force New Orleans to play in the wildcard round.
Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that these Panthers would come all the way from 1-3 to a division leader over the high-powered Saints. With hard-nosed defense and an incredibly efficient season out of their third-year quarterback, the Panthers have done just that.
The odds are in the Panthers’ favor, as far as a division title is concerned. In the final week of the season, both the Saints and Panthers play their other divisional rivals in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. It looks like New Orleans will not be on a bye week after all, as the Panthers have come in and stolen the division right from their hands.