The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers meet this Sunday afternoon in Bank of America stadium (Charlotte, NC) to renew an underrated divisional rivalry. The two will meet for the 45th time in their history, playing each other twice a year since Carolina entered the league in 1995. Since the two will meet later this season as well in New Orleans, today we will focus on some of the numbers and moments from their games in Carolina.
The Panthers entered the NFL as an expansion team in 1995, and were placed in the NFC West division, alongside the Saints, Falcons, 49ers, and Rams. The division remained as such until league realignment in 2002 formed the NFC South, where the Saints, Panthers, and Falcons were joined by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Panthers hold a 24-20 edge in the series, and a 12-10 advantage in games played in Carolina. The first game between the two teams was October 22, 1995 in Carolina, a 20-3 victory by the Panthers. The Saints would lose 4 of the first 5 games on the road between the teams, with their first away win a 16-13 victory during the 1997 season.
The largest winning streak in the series of games played in Carolina is owned by the Saints, who won 3 straight between 2003-'05. Saints coach Sean Payton is 4-6 on the road against the Panthers since 2006 (Payton missed the 2012 season due to a year-long league suspension). Drew Brees owns a 4-5 road record against the Panthers as New Orleans quarterback. Interestingly, the only two games Brees has missed in his twelve years with the Saints were away games against Carolina.
In the 2009 season finale, the Saints rested Brees and many of their starters for the playoffs, and lost in Carolina 23-10. A rejuvenated New Orleans team would rebound to roll through the playoffs on their way to a Super Bowl championship. Brees also sat out a 2015 game in Carolina due to injury, and watched his Saints fall short, 27-22, during a season where the Panthers would lose just one game on their way to the conference championship.
Fans of both the Saints and Panthers would probably say that their team's top rival is the Atlanta Falcons, but recent Saints/Panthers games have been very physical and emotional contests for both sides. One of the more reviled figures from the New Orleans side of this rivalry has been Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers signal caller first entered the league as the draft's 1st selection in 2011. New Orleans has a 3-3 record against Newton in games played in Carolina.
One of the more "chippy" games between the two in Carolina was a Sunday night game played on October 30, 2014. During the 28-10 New Orleans win, there was pushing and shoving on nearly every play, and after the game some Saints players intimated that Panther defenders were taking shots at the knees of Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and other Saints players. Relations between the two soured even further in the team's rematch later that year, as the two squads engaged in numerous fights and an infamous all-out brawl after a Cam Newton touchdown run, resulting in multiple player ejections.
Consistent trash talking, taunting, and showboating have become the norm in this rivalry by players on both sides. There are other NFL rivalries that are much more publicized, but every match up between these two teams reveal that the two franchises legitimately do not like each other.
The Saints need this win desperately, and it isn't a stretch to say that the team is already at a crossroads just two games into the 2017 season. A loss would not put New Orleans in an insurmountable hole, but could certainly send such a young team spiraling into the type of losing season that Saints fans have not witnessed during the Payton/Brees era.
The Saints defense actually matches up fairly well on paper against the Carolina offense. The Panthers have had trouble protecting Newton, and has not run the ball well. The Carolina receivers are not a playmaking group, and are further weakened by the absence of All-Pro tight end Greg Olsen, out with injury. Offensively, the Saints must find a way to protect Drew Brees against an intimidating Panthers front 7, but Carolina has a young group of cornerbacks that could pave the way to good games by Saints receivers Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, and Brandon Coleman.
Points have been hard to come by at times in games played in Carolina during this series, with the Panthers averaging around 22 points per game, while the Saints have averaged just under 20 points per game. The Panthers will be hard to score against in this one as well, but the New Orleans defense has a great opportunity for improved play against a limited Carolina offense.
Prediction: Saints 23, Panthers 17