The New Orleans Saints are headed to Minneapolis after their 31-26 victory over the Carolina Panthers. That's quite a few more than the Atlanta Falcons (143), and more than double that of Carolina's first-round opponent, the New Orleans Saints (90). A large part of that was the improvement of the Saints running game with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. In the Panthers' five losses this season, the defense has only registered two takeaways, in contrast to 19 in the team's 11 wins. The Saints swept both regular season games with a 31-21 victory on December 3 and a 34-13 victory on September 24. And obviously, you don't just look at the games you played them.
But the Panthers got the ball late with about 70 yards to score after New Orleans coach Sean Payton made a curious decision to go for it on fourth and 2 near midfield. For Carolina to win, it will need a huge performance from Newton. Cam Newton led the team in rushing for the second time in his seven seasons there with 754 yards and six touchdowns.
Payton pointed out that the Panthers not only defeated two of the top teams in the National Football League this season - New England and Minnesota - but beat the Patriots on the road.
The Panthers' lone lead in the two regular season games came courtesy of a field goal at the start of the Week 3 matchup.
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Meanwhile, Saints coach Sean Payton will be trying to change or disguise most everything his offense has done against the Panthers, which may be hard as those old plays accounted for 400 yards in the 31-21 win and 362 yards in the 34-13 victory.
While Saints All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan has done well containing the 6-foot-5, 245-pound, fleet-footed Newton in previous meetings, he said he doesn't exactly enjoy the prospect of having to do so again.
Drew Brees threw for 4,334 yards this season, the lowest total of any of his seasons with the Saints.
"I think this team is at its best when doubt is overwhelming against them", Shepard said on the Panthers website. "If you look at those two games, we flat out didn't get it done".
The No 8 overall pick out of Stanford was strictly a third down back behind veteran Jonathan Stewart, and neither have been very successful running the ball.
"You're talking about one of the better tight ends in the game".
In September, New Orleans tortured the Panthers offense, holding Newton to 167 passing yards and forcing three interceptions in a blowout.