While the overall play of the NFC South has been appalling, some team from the division will go to the playoffs. The winner of Thursday night's New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers game could very well end up being that team.
The Saints haven't looked much like the championship contenders that many pegged them as before the start of the season. After eight weeks, they have yet to win a road game while nearly losing to NFC doormat Tampa Bay. Drew Brees has played well overall, but he's been more inconsistent than in past years. Much of the blame falls on his supporting cast on offense, which is a step back from the past few seasons.
The Panthers been up and down for the first month of the season. Yet unlike the Saints they've since regressed, not winning a game since Oct. 5 over the struggling Chicago Bears. Outside of a sterling individual performance against the Bengals, Cam Newton hasn't looked like the Pro Bowl quarterback he's been in the past.
One of the positive surprise developments for the Saints this year has been the effective play of their ground game. Mark Ingram, now healthy after a hand injury kept him out multiple weeks, leads the team in rushing yardage (331), yards per carry by a running back (5.7), and rushing touchdowns (four). Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas have each contributed in the red zone, scoring two touchdowns a piece.
Meanwhile, the Carolina rushing attack has been stalled by injury. No rusher has amassed over 60 carries, and only one running back averages more than 4 yards per attempt. The good news is that player, DeAngelo Williams, is back this week for the Panthers. Along with the recently returned Jonathan Stewart, Williams should reinvigorate the offense.
The Saints enter Thursday's game with a record of 3-4. The Panthers come in at 3-4-1.
How to watch
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
When: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson
Online streaming: Verizon NFL Mobile
The Panthers are 3-point favorites, according to OddsShark, with an over/under of 49 points.