Panthers fans rally ahead of playoff game as team sale looms

Panthers running backs cut wrestling promo for Saints playoff

DIVISIONAL grudge matches bring something extra to a play-off game and that's exactly what there is at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on Sunday night.

FAMILIAL INSPIRATION: Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose 72 percent completion rate this season was an NFL record, enters his first playoff game in four years just days after traveling to Texas for the funeral of his 92-year-old grandfather, Ray Akins, a World War II veteran and long-time high school football coach. Carolina had also contained the Saints' dynamic rushing attack, holding running back tandem Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to a combined 14 rushing yards by halftime.

On the Panthers side of the ball it is clear that the offense runs though quarterback Cam Newton who not only quarterbacked the team but also ran for 754 yards and six touchdowns. The Saints are a 7-point favorite, according to Vegas Insider. But Newton, Carolina's leading rusher this season, didn't run much in two losses to New Orleans, gaining 67 yards on nine carries.

Helped by the presence of tight end Greg Olsen - who did not play in the teams' previous two meetings - Newton marched Carolina into Saints territory more often than not. The Saints already beat the Panthers twice this season. If Newton has to pass the ball 30 or more times, that favors New Orleans. Expect another tight game on Sunday with an improved Panthers offensive performance highlighting the day. They took over at their 47 with 40 seconds remaining and got into field-goal range on Blake Bortles' scrambles of 20 and 12 yards.

In the two meetings between these teams this year New Orleans won 34-13 and 31-21.

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"We need to compile good series on top of good series", Panthers left guard Andrew Norwell told USA TODAY Sports. Even for players who weren't on the team's last injury report, the bye week carried plenty of value.

That's right - it's possible for the Vikings to defeat the Saints and Falcons en route to Super Bowl LII, payback from two of the more crushing losses in franchise history - 2010 to the Saints and the NFC Championship game loss to Atlanta in 1999. "You look at what they've been doing over the last four or five weeks". "Not having him is significant and having him is huge", Saints coach Sean Payton said.

"We want to show that we're here in good times and bad times", Lyles said.

Cam Newton rolled up to his weekly press conference, brow furrowed, and spoke of added focus. We were picked 6-10, 7-9, 8-8, last in the NFC South. you can look at it that everything we do from here on our is gravy then.

Saints: DE Trey Henderson (ankle), OL Terron Armstead (thigh) are QUESTIONABLE.

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