Game Scout: Panthers at Saints

Derek Harper, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

New Orleans Saints (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. - TV: FOX
*TV announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
*Keys to the game: The Panthers generated very little pressure on Saints QB Drew Brees during a 31-13 loss in New Orleans two weeks ago. Carolina prefers to limit blitzing to a minimum and rely on pressure from its front four. While Saints coach Sean Payton is gambling with a lineup change on Brees' blind side, Carolina could attempt to bring more rushers from the outset in the rematch. Brees' quick release too often allowed him to pick apart the Panthers' secondary to the tune of 313 yards and four touchdowns in Week 14. New Orleans is coming off defensive performance in St. Louis in which it failed to record a sack or a turnover in a game for the first time this season. The keys for Carolina begin with maximizing red-zone efficiency after settling for two early field goals in the first meeting, falling into a big hole and getting RBs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert only 16 combined carries.
*Matchup to watch - Saints LT Terron Armstead vs. Panthers DE Greg Hardy: After being inactive for 10 of the Saints' first 14 games, Armstead will make his first career NFL start in a pivotal matchup against one of the league's premier defenses. Armstead, a raw third-round pick out of Arkansas Pine-Bluff, takes over for demoted Charles Brown. Hardy's reaction upon learning of the move Wednesday? "What happened to the last guy?" Hardy had only one tackle at New Orleans.
*Player spotlight - Saints PK Shayne Graham: New Orleans finally cut the cord on Garrett Hartley after a pair of failed field-goal attempts last week, Graham, 36, lacks a booming leg but owns an 85.4 career accuracy mark.
*Fast facts: The Saints had the best road record in the NFL since 2009 at 25-14 before losing four of their past five games away from home. ... The Panthers are 6-1 at home this season.
The inside track to the NFC South title, the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye are all at stake. The Saints' recent road woes are a significant concern, but coach Sean Payton sent a measurable wake-up call with multiple lineup changes, and QB Drew Brees' quick release is a good matchup against Carolina's defensive scheme.
*Our pick: Saints 23-21

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