NFC Wild Card 2018, Panthers vs. Saints: Picks, predictions and odds

Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, NFL Playoffs

The New Orleans Saints will host the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Wild Card round on Sunday. Here is a game preview, the betting odds and final score pick.

With three NFC South teams qualifying for the 2017 NFL Playoffs, it should come as no surprise that two bitter rivals will clash on Wild Card weekend. In what might be the most evenly matched game of Wild Card weekend, the No. 4 New Orleans Saints (11-5) will host the No. 5 Carolina Panthers (11-5) on the last game of the slate.

Kickoff from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans will be at 4:40 p.m. ET on Jan. 7. FOX will have the national broadcast with the top team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth. The winner of this rivalry game will advance to the NFC Divisional round, while the loser goes home.

Carolina was 11-5 in 2017. The Panthers bounced back marvelously in 2017 after going 6-10 in the year prior. Carolina may not have gone 15-1 like the NFC Championship team from 2015, but the Panthers could absolutely win the NFC for the second time in three years.

This is the Panthers’ fourth trip to the NFC playoffs in five seasons. Nobody in the NFC has more playoff experience than Carolina. The Panthers have an outstanding defensive front-seven and one of the most enigmatic superstars of our generation quarterbacking them in Cam Newton.

New Orleans also went 11-5 in 2017. This was the best season the Saints have had in years. They won the NFC South for the first time since 2011. Completing the season sweep of Carolina was key in that endeavor. With the Saints back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, it will be interesting to see how Sean Payton’s team handles the gauntlet that leads to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

The NFC is wide open, whereas all six teams that made the playoffs can totally reach Super Bowl LII. Some might argue that even though they are the No. 4 seed, the Saints might be the presumptive favorite to make it to the Super Bowl. They have the only quarterback in the conference that has won a Super Bowl. Drew Brees did the trick back in 2009.

Betting Odds

Point Spread: New Orleans -6
Moneylines: New Orleans -280, Carolina +255
Over/Under: 48.5

According to OddsShark, the Saints will be laying 28 points at home to the visiting Panthers. The associated moneylines for this game are New Orleans -280 and Carolina +255. This game’s over/under comes in at a combined 48.5 points.

A dome game featuring a pair of division rivals that hate each other. What’s not to love about the over in this one? Though the Saints have their best defense in years, we have to believe both teams will find their way into the end zone on several occasions in this ball game.

Will this third annual meeting go like the first? That may very well be in play. While both teams lost to division rivals in Week 17, New Orleans looked significantly better than Carolina. Week 17 may have been the worst game of Newton’s NFL career. He was horrendous against the Atlanta Falcons. Though the Saints lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they had their shots to win the ball game and clinch the division out right.

What this game will come down to is which star quarterback will play better. Newton could absolutely carry the Panthers to the divisional round, but could lay another egg to a division rival on Sunday. Look for Brees to flourish, as the Saints score one more touchdown than the Panthers. New Orleans wins and covers the six-point spread just barely, 28-21.

Pick: Saints 28, Panthers 21

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