At 4-7 the New Orleans Saints have lost three games in a row and their playoff hopes are rapidly dwindling. Week 13 is hardly an ideal situation for them to rebound with the 11-0 Carolina Panthers coming to town.
After beating down the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, the Panthers come into Sunday's game with a few more days of rest and extra motivation to keep the undefeated streak going. Carolina can clinch the NFC South title by winning this game.
These teams last met in Week 3, with the Panthers pulling out a 27-22 win. Cam Newton threw two touchdown passes to Greg Olsen and ran in a score himself, while breakout cornerback Josh Norman got one of his four interceptions on the season.
Things looked bleak for the Saints after a 0-3 start to the year, but they rallied back to 4-4 and looked to be a player in the NFC Wild Card race. However, the wheels quickly came off and the defense completely cratered, leading to the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. New Orleans has allowed an average of 35 points per game during this latest losing streak.
But a bigger concern for the Saints is the offense suddenly going inert. Since tying the single-game record with seven touchdown passes in Week 8, Drew Brees has thrown just five touchdowns to four interceptions in the past three games. The Saints have averaged 16 points per game in that same span. They're not officially eliminated from the playoffs yet, but another loss and a 4-8 record would essentially take New Orleans out of the picture. At this point, the most interesting question is whether Sean Payton sticks around another year or goes to chase greener pastures.
It's hard to find many more superlatives to describe the Panthers, who are off to their best start in franchise history. They cruised to a 33-14 win over the Cowboys, with Luke Kuechly and Kurt Coleman each scoring on pick-sixes. Newton didn't have any touchdown passes after his five-score outburst in Week 11, but he added another rushing score (his seventh of the season) to ice the game.
With a division title all but assured, the Panthers can start thinking about homefield advantage. Right now, they hold a two-game lead over the Arizona Cardinals (9-2), and at least three more wins would clinch it without needing help from any other teams. There's also the bigger question surrounding Carolina -- can it finish the season 16-0? Here's the rest of the schedule:
Week 14: Atlanta Falcons
Week 15: at New York Giants
Week 16: at Falcons
Week 17: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
On paper, that doesn't look like a tough stretch at all, but divisional rivalries can be tricky, so it's entirely possible the Panthers get tripped up. But against a reeling Falcons team, a bewildering Giants team and a rebuilding Bucs team? There are worse bets to make.
But first, the Panthers have to get past their division rival on the road before they can think about making history. Even with their struggles, three of the Saints' four wins have come in the Superdome this year.
How to watch
When: 4:25 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews
Online: NFL Game Pass