For the Saints, what’s there to play for? A good bit actually

Five games. That is all that remains in the 2015 season for the New Orleans Saints. The playoffs are a distant hope, and there is I guess hope, Atlanta is 6-5 and keepers of the sixth and final spot. That said the Saints would have to pass up seven teams not including Atlanta and that’s assuming they win probably all five remaining games.

It’s more realistic to begin to think about next year. That’s where we are unfortunately and defensive end Cameron Jordan said it best this week when he felt for him it’s about now and not the future. That’s true, for the players as Jordan said, they get paid to show up on Sunday and play. For us, the fans and media, we are left to decipher the future of the franchise.

The Saints have a few building blocks no doubt but not as many as we would like. Building blocks defined by me as being players that potentially can be Pro Bowl or All-Pro players or at the very least franchise leading one like WR Marquis Colston who has several records but not a trip to Hawaii. These building blocks also have to be around for the next 5-6 years so yes that does eliminate QB Drew Brees and RB Mark Ingram.

On offense, the Saints to me have tackle Terron Armstead and wide receiver Brandin Cooks are my for sure picks. Rookie Andrus Peat is certainly a hope but it’s too early to tell. Defensively, LBs Kikaha and Anthony, CB Delvin Breaux and S Kenny Vaccaro stand out to me as far as guys to build around. DE Cam Jordan sure can be one, but his contract and could be a trading piece is making me reluctant to see he is a building block.

The team has a few players with promise. I’d put CBs Damian Swann and P.J. Williams in there. WR Willie Snead can be a contributor. Defensive lineman Bobby Richardson and Tyler Davison could be good be contributors as well.

Five games. That’s what’s left and with many local media members openly writing, talking or discussing the possibility that Sean Payton could be leaving after this season, one thing is certain. How this teams finishes and more importantly, how certain players play will determine the path taken by the franchise in the future taken by the current regime or the next one.

HOW THE SOUTH IS WON

Carolina           11-0     @ Saints                 +7.5

Atlanta              6-5        at Tampa Bay       Even

Tampa Bay      5-6        vs Atlanta              Even

New Orleans   4-7       vs Carolina             -7.5

STORYLINES

The storylines to me are about offenses. Both teams are cemented in what kind of defenses they are bringing to the game. Carolina brings into the game the NFL’s second best defense behind Denver. New Orleans brings into the game the league’s second worst defense above the Giants who are the worst.

Carolina is 17th in offense and the Saints are 3rd but to me the numbers are deceiving. The Panthers are scoring 30 points a game on average and the Saints are dropping by the week to now averaging just 23.7 points a game.

QB Cam Newton is being talked about as a MVP candidate as this season he’s passed for 2,466 yards but has 20 TDs to just 9 INTs. By comparison, Saints QB Drew Brees has 3200 yards and 20 TD passes with 10 INTs. Newton’s biggest thing going for him in the MVP race is how he has almost willed the Panthers offense into the endzone. It’s ugly at times. Carolina though knows who they are and are fine with it. Ground and pound is the motto as Carolina is the 4th best rushing team in the league averaging 138.9 yards per game. The Saints are ranked 21st in the NFL. Tampa by the way is 3rd and Atlanta is 4th so the Black and Gold are the lowest in the NFC South Division.

Here’s what I’m getting at. The Saints are no longer the high-flying act through the air with the greatest of ease show. Picking up first downs and staying on the field in third down conversions is a challenge for this offense now. Last week in Houston, the Saints were 3 for 12 on third downs against a Texans defense that isn’t bad but it’s not Carolina’s who is better (the Texans are 6th in the NFL) and has the added benefit of knowing the Saints inside and out as a Division opponent.

THE ENEMY

Carolina enters the game undefeated at 11-0 and are 14-0 in the regular season going back to last year. A win would tie them for the sixth-longest winning streak in NFL history. The Panthers last played on Thanksgiving in Dallas winning 33-14. A win on Sunday against the Saints would clinch a third straight NFC South Division Title.

Defense is what the Panthers have hung their hat on to attain much of their success but recently the offense has been clicking. Carolina has outscored their opponents 104-40 in the last three games.

The Panthers won this season’s first meeting 27-22 in Carolina in a game backup QB Luke McCown went 31-38 in place of injured Drew Brees. CB Josh Norman picked off McCown in the endzone to win it for Carolina.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Saints offense is ranked 13th in points at 23.7 a game getting there averaging 401.2 (3rd) yards a game via 304.5 (3rd) in the air and just 96.6.2 (21st) yards on the ground. Carolina’s offense is averaging 30.2 (3rd) points a game by gaining 348.7 (17th) yards on average getting there by averaging 209.8 (29th) yards through the air and 138.9 (4th) on the ground.

Defensively the Saints are giving up 30.8 (32nd) points a game while allowing 418.6 yards (31st). Teams are passing for 284.2. (31st) yards and rushing for 134.5 (30th) against the Saints. The Panthers are giving up 18.6 (3rd) points a game while allowing 312.5 (2nd) yards. Teams are passing for 223.8 (5th) yards and rushing for 88.7 (2nd) against the Colts.

PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON OFFENSE

RB Mark Ingram. The Panthers are stout against the run and the Saints offensive line is struggling. The Saints have to at least give it the good old college try in the running game if Brees and the Saints are to have a shot. Ingram had 50 yards on 14 carries with a TD in the first meeting, a game where the Saints had 70 yards on the ground total.

PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON DEFENSE

DE Cam Jordan. Jordan had two total tackles in the first meeting and one of them was a solo tackle. The Saints had just one sack in the game and came via Hau’oli Kikaha. Jordan has to be a factor and at least make Newton think pressure is coming. Cam isn’t the most accurate of QBs, make his think the ball needs to get out quicker than he want and it possibly could be good news.

X FACTORS

SS Kenny Vaccaro. Vaccaro this week talked about a culture change being needed on the defense. Vaccaro felt players, whether they blew and assignment or not still had an ability and have a chance to make a play and it was more about a want to then scheme. Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen needs to realize this guy can be a catalyst on the defense. Free V!

HOW I SEE IT

The Saints all week said the right things for a team that the slimmest of hopes for the post season. We saw earlier in the season the Saints give Carolina a game but the Panthers offense was just starting to figure out how to play with out WR Kelvin Benjamin and relied heavily on their defense. They got both sides of the ball working right now and Cam Newton’s playing as confident as ever. I have a hard time believing that despite playing hard, for I think the Saints will fight, that it will be enough.

Carolina is simply the better team and they are using staying undefeated as a motivation. 27-17 Panthers.

***Remember, you can hear New Orleans Saints football in Acadiana on 97.3 The Dawg. Pre-game Sunday begins at 1:30pm with kick-off at 3:25pm.***