Saints Will Boat-Race Panthers In Meaningless Week 18 Game

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Motivation in this Carolina Panthers (6-10) at New Orleans Saints (7-9) Week 18 game at the Caesars Superdome in the Big Easy can be thrown out the window since neither has anything to play for.

With that in mind, the Saints are clearly better than the Panthers. Not only do they have a better win-loss record but New Orleans is in a completely different tier of advanced analytics than Carolina.

The Saints briefly kept their season alive by upsetting the Eagles 20-10 as 5.5-point underdogs in Philadelphia last weekend.

New Orleans Saints LB Demario Davis and pass rusher Cameron Jordan high-five against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
New Orleans Saints LB Demario Davis and pass rusher Cameron Jordan high-five against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

But, the Panthers ended both their and NOLA’s season by losing at the Buccaneers 30-24 in Week 17. Carolina upset New Orleans 22-14 at home earlier this season but the Saints won the box score.

Between NOLA being better than its record indicates, the Panthers coming off a gut-punch loss and the Saints having a legit home-field edge, this number is too low.

Betting Details (DraftKings)

  • Moneyline: Panthers (+155), Saints (-180)
  • Against the spread (ATS): Panthers +3.5 (-115), Saints -3.5 (-105)
  • Total — 42 — Over: -110, Under: -110

More bets have been placed on Carolina at DraftKings Sportsbook whereas more cash is on New Orleans, per VSIN. This is called a Pros vs. Joe’s scenario because wiseguys make larger bets than the public.

It appears as though the casual bettor is overreacting to Panthers QB Sam Darnold winning and covering three of his five starts this season. Carolina those three wins came against the Broncos, Lions, and Seahawks.

Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

However, Denver has been a dumpster-fire and terminated its first-year coach, Detroit no-showed vs. Carolina, and Seattle has been trending down for months.

And believe it or not …

Saints are a step-up in competition for the Panthers

This seems like a ridiculous statement given New Orleans’ record. But, the Saints are heads and shoulders better than the Panthers and Carolina’s recent opponents.

NOLA is 12th in weighted opponent-based net efficiency (DVOA), per Football Outsiders. The Saints rank 13th in net EPA/play and seventh in both net yards per play (nYPP) and net success rate.

New Orleans Saints Swiss-army knife Taysom Hill replaces QB Andy Dalton against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
New Orleans Saints Swiss-army knife Taysom Hill replaces QB Andy Dalton against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

The Panthers on the other hand are 23rd in weighted DVOA, 24th in net EPA/play, 15th in nYPP, and 27th in net success rate.

And New Orleans’ defense has been ferocious recently. The Saints has given up 20 or fewer points in seven straight games including only 13 to the Niners and 10 last week to the Eagles, both on the road.

Furthermore …

NOLA out-played Carolina earlier this season

Yes, the Panthers beat the Saints in Week 3 but that result is misleading. New Orleans picked up seven more first downs than Carolina (19-12), better on third-down conversion rate, and out-gained the Panthers 6.7-5.0 in YPP.

Unfortunately for Saints backers, which I was for this game and preseason, New Orleans pissed down its leg. The Saints lost the turnover battle 3-0 with the Panthers scoring a defensive TD and had more penalties.

These teams have changed a lot since Week 3. NOLA former starting QB Jameis Winston threw 2 INTs in that game, Baker Mayfield was under center for Carolina and former Panthers RB Christian McCaffery gained 108 yards on 25 carries.

New Orleans Saints QB Andy Dalton looks down field against the Baltimore Ravens at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.
New Orleans Saints QB Andy Dalton looks down field against the Baltimore Ravens at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

The Panthers sent Mayfield and CMC to the NFC West and fired then-head coach Matt Rhule. Also, the Saints replaced Winston for QB Andy Dalton who’s played well aside from dumb turnovers.

In fact, Dalton is Pro Football Focus’s fifth-highest graded quarterback out of 38 graded QBs and Darnold is 24th. Dalton’s TD-rate, INT-rate and QB Rating are all above his career averages.

So by backing the Saints, we get the better QB and better defense while only laying -3.5 in New Orleans, which is tough place to play historically.

BET: Saints -3.5 (-105) at DraftKings Sportsbook

The New Orleans Saints' odds vs. the Carolina Panthers from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, Jan. 6 at 10:30 a.m. ET.
The New Orleans Saints’ odds vs. the Carolina Panthers from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Friday, Jan. 6 at 10:30 a.m. ET.

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Written by Geoff Clark

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