Here is the simple fact of the matter. All playoff teams and games are tough. If you are good enough to make it to the dance, you’ll be a tough team to play. Period!
So, if you had your choice of facing an unfamiliar opponent versus a familiar one you’ve had success against, the advantage favors you against a team you’ve already beat.
I’ve heard the whispers - It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season blah blah blah blah blah.
Says who exactly?
It definitely wasn’t history (which is always a great indicator), because NFL history suggests that a team that went 2-0 during the regular season is 11-5 in the playoff rematch since 1995.
Let that Titanic for a moment.
Talking heads have people believing that the “tougher the 3rd time around” theory is actually supported by something tangible when it’s NOT. It’s just dialogue based around a legit but unsound talking point.
Now here is the ugly truth for the Saints.
New Orleans is slightly weaker in key areas that they weren’t in the first two matchups, namely LB and Slot DB, and the Panthers still have Christian McCaffrey along with now having Greg Olsen back. While the latter hasn’t re-established himself as a threat, it’s a little early to hit the sheets on how effective he can be.
With that being said, there is still one Supa Ugly truth (Sup Hov) as it refers to the Panthers.
Carolina is STILL led by a so-so thrower of the ball, and that so-so thrower is responsible for making the connection with the aforementioned targets.
That so-so thrower is also coming off the second worst throwing season of his career and his worst game last week versus the Falcons (31.5 QB rating and 41.2% completion). While Cam Newton is still effective as a runner, he hasn’t been nearly as effective as he was in previous years to offset such meh passing.
In that regard, the Panthers go as Newton goes, and IMHO they’ll all be following Roger home with a L after their third loss to the Saints. Let’s take a look at this week’s Keys to Success.
Same Formations, Different Plays
This is a blatantly obvious one, just ask Sean Payton!
“You have to have plays that look the same, but are something different,” Payton said. “He is so good at communicating to (fellow linebackers Thomas) Davis and Shaq” Thompson.
The “he” Payton was referring to is Luke Kuechly. And for the Saints offense to have continued success versus the Panthers defense, that’s the guy he’ll have to keep off balance. That’s the guy who dropped a near INT by Drew Brees that could have flipped the Week 12 matchup on its head. If something of that nature happens again, it’ll likely be Kuechly facilitating it, so having some window dressing will go a long way to keeping Kuechly guessing and helping them win this game.
Attention to Detail
It’s the little things like proper hand placement that can make the difference on a single play that changes the scope of the entire game. Due to the familiarity of these teams, EVERYONE has to be on point. Mental mistakes cannot be afforded in this one, as the slightest gaffe can be capitalized on and result in a loss. To be honest, this goes for both teams, but the Saints have a distinct advantage in this one because they have the better coaching staff. In fact, their attention to detail has been ‘06 workman like all season, and It’s why they’ve done so well despite not having as many blue chip talents as say the Raiders.
Party in the Dome
That’s right, Saints fans! After a three-year hiatus, playoff football is back in the Superdome and we need a repeat of the Falcons matchup. I was present for the second Panthers matchup, and I can attest Newton and company had a hard time with the momentum swings and the crowd noise. No matter what they tried, they couldn’t match us blow for blow and Newton was a celebratory subdued as I’ve ever seen him in a Panthers uniform. You take Newton’s energy out the game, and you take the energy out the Panthers. Bring it Who Dats!
Player to Watch - Wil Lutz, K
We’ve talked at length about the Saints needing someone else to step up on offense in the event that the Big 3 of Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas get shut down. If the offense has a day where their stalls become more pronounced, then it could be up to Lutz to put points on the board to keep things on schedule. He’s been quiet in a good way lately, as he’s been consistent. But, it’ll be interesting to see how he performs in such a high pressure game. Can Lutz make a Garrett Hartley-like memory in the Dome on Sunday if push comes to shove?
Random Thought: Sean likes to strike division opponents in particular ways. I wonder if this is a game that Ginn maybe contributes just a wee bit more to the win than he has in the last two games. I.E. will Sean have some “special” plays drawn up to make Ted a factor against his old team?
The Thrilla in Manila was the third and final match between Ali and Frazier, and most watched as Muhammad worked his jab to perfection early on. If New Orleans comes out and works their jab successfully (Kamara and Ingram), they can keep the Panthers at Bay early. As the game progresses, the hooks will start to land (Brees/Thomas) and then when Newton and the Panthers get woozy and start reeling the uppercuts (crowd and defense), it will be the final nail in the coffin that puts Carolina on the canvas for the 10 count. Let’s get ready to rumble Who Dat’s!