** The way to beat the Saints is to smash them in the mouth. New Orleans has a reputation as one of the league’s finesse teams – a squad that would rather throw over you than run through you.
** The Panthers play the game the other way, sometimes to their own detriment (i.e., Steve Smith didn’t catch a single pass after the first half in the overtime loss to the Giants and was hardly ever thrown to -- that's ridiculous). On Sunday, though, a steady diet of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will be just what Carolina needs, because you don’t want New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees on the field too often.
** Brees won’t set the NFL record for single-season passing yardage Sunday, breaking Dan Marino’s 24-year-old record of 5,084 yards. He needs 402 to get it, and he won’t have Reggie Bush (who’s on injured reserve) on the field to help him. I’m going to pencil in Brees for at least 317 vs. the Panthers, though, so he’ll become the second guy to ever go over 5,000 in a season. That’s still something.
** The Panthers absolutely must blitz more in this game than they usually do. Give Brees time and you may as well forget it. Thomas Davis, the Panthers’ best blitzer, needs to have a good game.
** The economic downturn has obviously affected tourism in New Orleans. I’ve been down to The Big Easy several times to cover sporting events during the holidays, and it’s often difficult to secure a hotel room for less than $150. This time, a room in a nice hotel could be had for $65.
** After picking the Panthers’ outcome correctly for six weeks in a row, I misfired on the Giants-Panthers game last week. I’ll try to get back on the horse with this one: Carolina 31, New Orleans 24.
A win would guarantee Carolina the No.2 playoff seed in the NFC, a first-round bye and a home playoff game -- I think all that is going to happen. As I've mentioned on this blog earlier, though (see the previous post), if Carolina doesn't win this game, I don't think this team is good enough to advance from a wild-card slot to the Super Bowl. So this one is enormous -- with no win here, you can kiss the Panthers' Super Bowl chances goodbye.