Biggest storylines for Panthers vs. Saints in Week 18

Just because this game means nothing for the season’s race to the Lombardi Trophy, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth tuning in for.

Here are the top storylines for what’ll still be an interesting Week 18 clash between the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints.

New lease on life?

AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman

In one of the most unexpected developments of the entire season, Sam Darnold has turned himself into a decent quarterback. Heck, he might even be turning into a good one.

Since the former third overall pick took over in Week 12—a five-game span span in which he’s thrown for 1,100 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception—the Panthers have pieced together the NFL’s most efficient passing offense. That’s due, in no small part, to Darnold—who now boasts the highest average of yards per attempt (9.6) and second-highest passer rating (105.4) amongst all quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts.

The 25-year-old is set to become a free agent this spring. So another fine performance, especially against a stout Saints defense that’s fresh off shutting down the Philadelphia Eagles, could go a long way in impressing his current or next employer.

Winning one more day

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Speaking of a last chance to impress, Steve Wilks has another day to win. And as the Panthers look for a new head coach for 2023 and beyond, Wilks has presented owner David Tepper with a pretty impressive audition tape to this point.

One week into the job, he had himself a 1-5 team that just traded its best player in running back Christian McCaffrey and its No. 2 wide receiver in Robbie Anderson. Over the next 10 weeks, they’d go a relatively impressive 5-5—running themselves right into the thick of the NFC South race until the second-to-last game of the season.

Under Wilks, the Panthers discovered their identity, their swagger and their purpose. So, in a matchup that holds no bearing in the playoff race, let’s see if the Panthers can discover anything more with the fan (and player) favorite leading them out for one last ride this season.

Mountainous milestones

AP Photo/Butch Dill

They may not be playing for a playoff spot, but a few Panthers stars are playing for some milestones.

One is wideout DJ Moore, who is 122 receiving yards away from his fourth straight 1,000-yard campaign. That will be a pretty tough total to hit, especially considering Moore amassed all of 110 yards in his last three outings combined against New Orleans.

Another man out for a number is defensive end Brian Burns, who can actually collect a pair of records if he’s good to go. 3.0 sacks for the fourth-year passer would give him the franchise’s single-season sack mark (15.0) and tie Luke Kuechly’s franchise record for tackles for a loss (20).

(Linebacker Frankie Luvu is also three tackles for a loss away from Kuechly’s tally.)

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Story originally appeared on Panthers Wire