As the Saints and Panthers set to face off for the third time this season, we go to the numbers on their respective seasons for some clarity.
There is enough film for the general audience to understand at least one thing. The Saints have outplayed the Panthers throughout this season. The teams finished with the same record (11-5), but the Saints had more impressive wins. More importantly, New Orleans dominated Carolina in both head-to-head matchups in 2017.
It’s odd to see two great divisional rivals not have a competitive rivalry. It’s only happened roughly 40 times in NFL history, with this being the 21st time both such teams play each other in the playoffs.
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But you rarely ever see a game featuring great teams with such lopsided head-to-head outcomes. The first, in Week 3, ended with the Saints winning by 21 points, their first win of the season. Week 13 saw New Orleans win by a score of 31-21, bouncing back from their third loss of the season against the Rams the week before.
Looking at their respective overall seasons tells a different story. The Panthers were one game away from stealing the NFC South from the Saints. Carolina also has advantages in some major categories over New Orleans. Check them out:
Yards per game: 391.2-323.7, New Orleans. (The Saints ranked 2nd in this category, trailing only New England. The Panthers finished the season ranked 19th.)
Points per game: 28-22.7, New Orleans
Yards per play: 6.3-5, New Orleans
3rd down conversion percentage: 42%-38%, Carolina
Interceptions thrown: 8-16, New Orleans
Turnover differential: +7-(-)1, New Orleans
Time of possession/game: 32:17-31:09, Carolina
Yards per game: 317.1-336.5, Carolina. (The Panthers finished the season ranked 7th in this category. The Saints finished 17th.)
Points per game: 20.4-20.4, Tied
Yards per play: 5.3-5.4, Carolina
Third down percentage: 38%-41%, Carolina
Interceptions: 20-10, New Orleans
Even though the Saints have had the clear upper hand when the teams play one another, the Panthers have some major advantages on the year. They’re better on third down on both sides of the ball. And they hold the ball for a longer amount of time on offense compared to the Saints.
Defensively is really where Carolina shines. They’ve ranked in the top 10 in most defensive categories for the entire season. Besides more interceptions, Carolina leads or is tied with New Orleans in every major stat.
Credit Sean Payton for figuring out ways to defeat Carolina twice in 2017. Many could argue that the Panthers are overall a better team and just need their quarterback to be more stable. Let’s see if Payton can also continue the trend by completing a 3-game season sweep, as past teams are 13-7 in such games.