Saints @ Panthers
It’s rare we have the situation of a matchup where the reverse fixture was as recent as two weeks before (it feels rare, it might not be rare). This, in theory, should give us plenty of points of focus where coaches are determined not to make the same mistakes while at the same time reinforcing their existing competitive advantage.
Saints to win – 2.55
Panthers to win – 1.57
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are correct as of today and subject to change)
The main talking point around the New Orleans Saints this week has been the announcement that their rookie left tackle out of Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Terron Armstead, will replace 4th year USC alum Charles Brown. The left side of the New Orleans offensive line was undoubtedly tortured by Robert Quinn last week (think Gareth Bale v Maicon in 2010, soccer fans), but even the most competent blockers around the league wouldn’t be able to avoid being trampled by the Rams pass rush right now. Armstead will almost certainly be up against Greg Hardy for most of the afternoon, and while Hardy is no slouch (6th best 4-3 defensive end in the league according to Pro Football Focus), he was well and truly blunted by Brown in Week 14, in what was a pretty ignominious night for the vaunted Panther defensive front.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the New Orleans Saints are famed for Drew Brees and the prolific pass attack he commandeers. They ran riot in the previous fixture at home to Carolina, with Brees throwing for 313 yards and four touchdowns, and stellar wideout Marques Colston having his best game of the season (9 catches, 125 yards, 2 touchdowns). The secondary had been the main concern for this Carolina defence but they have surpassed most expectations, with PFF’s pass coverage metric ranking them a very respectable 8th overall. Regardless of the Saints’ recent stutters, the Panthers defence will need to be on the top of their game if they are to best one of the greatest passing offenses the game has ever seen.
For the Saints, a win would answer some of the questions starting to bubble up about their credentials, whether they’re just one-trick ponies who can only perform at home (only the Bengals have a greater differential between their home and away records). In fact so dominant are the Saints at home, this surfaced on one of their fansites. And for the Panthers, despite statement wins in San Francisco and against New England on Monday Night Football (although even the flawed Colts beat San Francisco and Seattle), beating the regent Saints would go a big way to proving they are a big time contender. There are some people* who still think their franchise quarterback hasn’t established himself the way Luck, Wilson and even Kaepernick have. A win on Sunday would surely paid to that.
*People? What people? ME
Patriots @ Ravens
If the Baltimore Ravens were a sensitive bunch, they might think they were being disrespected. A norm for the Super Bowl winners is to play the first game of the next season at home, but they had their opening night home game privileges stripped from them, and now NBC, who hold the rights to a primetime Sunday night matchup, decided to “flex out” of airing the Ravens’ final home game in favour of an Eagles-Bears game which could feasibly have the home side resting their key starters depending on a result earlier that day.
Still, after losing (what people considered to be) the lynchpins of their Super Bowl winning side to retirement and free agency in the summer, the supposedly decimated Ravens have got to the penultimate game of the season with their place in the playoffs in their own hands. All they have to do is win both of their games and they’re in. Except, they’re playing the powerhouse New England Patriots who are always in contention for a world championship (yes, I went there) and away to their division rivals the Cincinnati Bengals (who, as you read above, have a pretty considerable home-field advantage).
Trouble, you may think. Alas, the Ravens are 3-2 against New England in their last five encounters. Only the New York Football Giants are able to match such a record – if you only count the five games occurring in this millennium.
Baltimore have won their last 4, while New England are coming off the back of a slap-in-the-face loss in Miami, who incidentally are one of Baltimore’s main challengers for a playoff place. It hasn’t been the first such defeat for the Patriots this season, whose other defeats came away against the New York Jets, the Carolina Panthers and the Cincinnati Bengals. All four boast outstanding defences, something the Baltimore Ravens pride themselves on.
Patriots starting left tackle Nate Solder suffered a concussion last week, and if he’s fit to play he’ll have his hands full with a rampant Elvis Dumervil (ranked 2nd in the league among 3-4 outside linebackers) and a healthy dose of Ball So Hard University alum Terrell Suggs.
New England have spent most of the season without their superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski (I won’t even mention the other one), and after his week 7 return, they tragically lost him to a season ending ACL tear against Cleveland in Week 14. Any offense in history would have a gaping Gronkowski-sized hole in it if he was shorn from it, but it has especially hindered New England considering the deficiencies in their other offensive skill players. Ridley (butterfingers), Thompkins and Dobson (inexperience), Amendola (always injured), Hoomanawanui (not Gronkowski) and Hernandez (homicide charges, ok I mentioned him) have left the imperial Tom Brady with Julian Edelman and not much else all season.
This has shown in their results – six of New England’s wins have come with a three point winning margin or less. Meanwhile Baltimore won on Monday Night Football against the Detroit Lions without scoring a touchdown, and being stalwarts of the AFC North they are more than familiar in the art of grinding out close wins.
The most recent weather forecast suggests there will be thunderstorms during game-time in the Maryland area with a medium strength wind. Rain usually means running the football, and while Ravens tailback Ray Rice has had an appalling season by any measure (PFF have him as by far the worst running back in the league this season), he appeared to be workable in his last two games (4.2 yards per carry).
With the strength of their defence and with kicker Justin Tucker having a career night earlier this week, a slugfest could play right into Baltimore’s hands, setting things up for a Week 17 for the ages with supporters in the stands obligingly having their ears pinned to the wireless. And who doesn’t love those days?
Betting Instinct Tip – Baltimore Ravens -2.5 is 1.91 with Intertops Sportsbook
SAADAAB JANAB is a recovering football fan (he doesn’t like to call it soccer) who discovered NFL and MLB in the depth of his crisis. He is back on amicable terms with his original passion, but American football and baseball get as much attention as ever.