The NFC South champion New Orleans Saints will try to move up the NFC playoff seeding ladder by closing out the regular season with a road victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. The Saints eked out a 34-31 home win over the Panthers in Week 12 and have won five of the past six meetings with their division rivals.
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The only thing the Panthers have left to do is play spoiler to the Saints, who have already clinched the NFC South title and are in a three-way tie for the best record in the NFC along with Green Bay and San Francisco. New Orleans can still end up anywhere from the No. 1 seed - and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs - to the No. 3 seed facing a wild-card game, though the Saints need some help in the form of a 49ers (at Seattle) or Packers (at Detroit) loss or tie to get off the No. 3 line. "We're still playing for all those things in front of us," New Orleans coach Sean Payton told reporters. "I don't think this is a long shot, what we need this week." Carolina is trying to avoid ending the season with an eight-game losing streak after sitting at 5-3 after Week 9.
ABOUT THE SAINTS (12-3): New Orleans kept alive its dream of home-field advantage - or at least a first-round bye - with a 38-28 victory at Tennessee last week and has won six straight road games. Brees is nursing a knee injury that limited him in practice Wednesday, but the veteran quarterback, who enters the game leading the league with a 75.3 completion percentage and on track to break his own NFL record of 74.4 percent last season, is expected to suit up. Regardless of whether it's Brees or Teddy Bridgewater, the Saints have the league's top receiver in Michael Thomas, who leads the NFL in receptions (145) and receiving yards (1,688), as well as a respectable defense that is especially tough against the run.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (5-10): The Panthers are 0-3 since interim coach Perry Fewell took over and have lost two of the three by at least 20 points, including a 38-6 blowout at Indianapolis last week. Rookie quarterback Will Grier is set to make his second start and is likely to lean heavily on Christian McCaffrey, who had 15 receptions last week and needs 216 yards from scrimmage to break Chris Johnson's record of 2,509 set in 2009. Carolina's defense has struggled, allowing 29 or more points in six straight games and giving up at least 250 rushing yards in each of the last four contests.
1. Brees needs 274 passing yards to reach 3,000 for the 16th consecutive season after falling eight yards short of a 13th consecutive 4,000-yard season a year ago.
2. McCaffrey has joined Marshall Faulk and Chris Johnson as the only players in history with at least nine games of 150 or more scrimmage yards in a season, and he needs 67 receiving yards to join Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players with 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
3. Thomas has set the NFL's single-season record for receptions and needs 112 receiving yards to become the fifth player in history with 1,800 receiving yards.
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