Time: 1:00 PM (ET)
Date: Sunday, January 3, 2009.
Location: Bank of America Stadium.
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For Sporting News This game took on a lot less meaning when Chicago beat Minnesota in overtime in Week 16, as that Vikings loss clinched homefield advantage for the Saints throughout the NFC playoffs. But for the Saints, there's still the small matter of playing playoff-caliber football. That's been missing the last two weeks, and it's the reason Sean Payton's promising a focused effort.
Mostly, the Saints will have to try to jump-start a stagnant offense against a defense that has been particularly strong lately. The way the Panthers have pressured quarterbacks and created turnovers (17 in the last five games, 29 in the last nine), one could easily make a case for Saints QB Drew Brees sitting this one out.
The Panthers are looking squarely to the future. QB Matt Moore has been impressive in mopping up Jake Delhomme's mess and should get a chance to compete for the starting job next year. He'll be going against a Saints defense that's returning to health, and he'll be doing it without his one legitimate WR target -- Steve Smith was lost for the season with a broken arm against the Giants. It's not the best recipe for Moore, but he's exceeded expectations so far.
The Bottom Line
This game may come down to how much the Saints want to win. They've played some sloppy games in losing to Dallas and Tampa Bay, and need to sharpen the blade before heading into an off week and then the divisional playoffs. The Panthers present a playoff-caliber defense, so it makes sense to let Brees and Co. play some, if only to try to regain some of their previous polish. Defensively, the Saints might not see a rushing attack like this in the playoffs, and the Panthers haven't been taking many chances in the air. At the end of the day, if the Saints bother showing up, they should take this one on talent alone.
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