Sunday Night Football will determine who controls the NFC South. It's the first meeting between Carolina and New Orleans in 2013, with the Panthers winning both games last season. Couple that with the team's winning streak and it might seem like Carolina should have the edge -- but the near-universal opinion is that the Saints will win at home.
Three NFL experts over at ESPN are picking the Panthers, and they happen to be former players. Marcus Allen, Keyshawn Johnson and Mike Ditka all think this defensive-minded team has what it takes, but 10 other experts side with the home team. New Orleans lost to a strong defensive team at Seattle in Week 13, but home field advantage is real at the Superdome, and the Panthers aren't the Seahawks.
It's a decidedly different affair over at CBS. Picks are split down the middle, with picks-leader Will Brinson favoring New Orleans. If the Panthers win it will be because of its defensive line. Shaking Drew Brees isn't easy, but if Carolina's pass rush can win the battle up front there's a chance.
Our own panel of experts here at SB Nation believe in one of the league's best home teams. The Saints are almost unstoppable at home, resulting in a clean sweep of six experts all siding with New Orleans.
Ryan Van Bibber, SB Nation NFL editor talked about why he's picking the Saints.
The Saints and Falcons have alternated as NFC South champs for the last four seasons. Carolina last held the division title in 2008, before Cam Newton, Riverboat Ron, ultra rich running backs, Luke Kuechly and angering Bill Belichick. This could be the year the Panthers reclaim the top spot in the division, but they have to get through the Saints, with two games against them in the closing month of the season.
The first of those games is in New Orleans. Winning in the Superdome is a tall order with noisy crowds and pre-existing narratives to overcome. One thing Seattle did so well on Monday was to smother the Saints in coverage, with a lot of help from the Seahawk linebackers. The Panthers have a group of linebackers that excel in coverage as well, with or without helpful officials.
Carolina has what it takes to beat the Saints. It's the home field advantage in this one that's hard to overlook. New Orleans in 6-0 at home this year, 5-0-1 against the spread. Carolina has lost two on the road, but that was before they rode the Riverboat to the current eight-game streak. The Panthers were the last team to win in the Superdome too, but that came against the 2012 Saints.
This should be a great game, but it's a tough one to pick. Don't overthink it. Take the Saints at home.