The Panthers will face the Saints for the third time this season, but this time around the loser goes home for good. New Orleans won both regular season games by double-digits, including a 34-13 win in Carolina that turned their season around after an 0-2 start. There is an old cliché that says it's tough to beat an NFL team three times in one season, but teams with that opportunity in the playoffs have gone 11-5 since 1991. The Saints are favored to win by a touchdown this weekend, but can the Panthers pull the upset and avoid the three-game sweep?

Saints' Offense vs. Panthers' Defense

The Saints didn't really know how good Alvin Kamara was during the first matchup between these two teams as he only had five touches while Adrian Peterson got the ball 11 times during the blowout victory.

Kamara was a much bigger factor in their game during the first week of December where he gained 126 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns.

In theory, the Panthers' linebackers are talented enough to slow down the league's best duo of running backs in New Orleans. However, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara exploded for 248 yards of total offense in their second matchup of the year.

Even if the Panthers focus their entire defense on slowing down this dynamic duo, Drew Brees and Michael Thomas can exploit a Carolina secondary that has struggled all year long. Thomas had over 70 yards with a touchdown in each of the two games between these teams this year, and the Panthers' inexperienced group of cornerbacks does not match up well with the Saints' receivers.

The Panthers will need to score a lot of points to come out of the Superdome victorious this weekend as New Orleans' offense can beat you in so many different ways.

Panthers' Offense vs. Saints' Defense

The improvement of the Saints' defense has been one of the biggest stories of the season in New Orleans, and it all began by shutting down the Panthers in that Week 3 victory. They picked off Cam Newton three times and sacked him four times, whcih set the tone for the rest of an impressive season.

Newton played much better in the second matchup in the Superdome with 234 yards of offense, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. Carolina's offense has come and gone with the inconsistency of Newton's performance this year, and he will obviously be the determining factor again in the playoffs.

In a win-or-go-home situation, the Panthers will totally unleash the running ability of Cam Newton, which could provide a spark to an offense that struggled mightily over the last two weeks.

TV schedule

Sunday, January 7th at 4:40 PM ET on FOX

Prediction

I think this game will be incredibly close due to Newton getting a ton of carries and opening up their run game, but it's hard to predict how accurate Cam will be throwing the football against a top-five pass defense in New Orleans.

The Saints have a tremendous home-field advantage in the Superdome, and the Panthers haven't proven that they have an effective plan for slowing down their explosive offense.

The Saints may be the best team in the NFC, and they'll prove it by beating Carolina for the third time this year. #New Orleans Saints #Carolina Panthers #Nfl Playoffs