Game of the Week: What’s at stake in Panthers vs Saints

NFL Playoff: The NFC has proven to be far superior to its AFC counterpart through 12 games, and Week 13 gives football fans a glorious preview of what will be a fascinating NFL postseason in the conference.

Sunday’s early games feature a juicy Vikings-Falcons clash in Atlanta; the late-afternoon slate gives us a crucial Panthers vs Saints match in the Big Easy that will help decide the NFC South; and the day caps with a fascinating Sunday nighter as the high-flying Eagles travel to the Northwest to take on the Seattle Russell Wilsons.

All of the above means the NFC playoff picture could become much clearer this weekend. But it could also be much more muddled by the time the final whistle is blown at CenturyLink Field on Sunday night.

What’s more, a peek ahead to the Week 14 matchups reveals another mouth-watering week in the NFC.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Here’s what to look out for in Week 13.

If the season ended today… NFL Playoff Picture
Wild Card Playoff

No. 6 Atlanta Falcons (7-4) at No. 3 Los Angeles Rams (8-3)
No. 5 Carolina Panthers (8-3) at No. 4 New Orleans Saints (8-3)
Divisional Playoff

Lowest-seeded wild-card winner at No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)
Highest-seeded wild-card winner at No. 2 Minnesota Vikings (9-2)
NFC teams still in the hunt

Seattle Seahawks (7-4)
Detroit Lions (6-5)
Green Bay Packers (5-6)
Dallas Cowboys (5-6)
Washington Redskins (5-6)
Arizona Cardinals (5-6)

Game of the Week

Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints, Sunday 4:25 PM
The NFC South has emerged has the NFL’s toughest division.

Both the Panthers and Saints have bounced back nicely from down years in 2016, while the Falcons are rounding into form following a slight Super Bowl hangover in the first half of the season. If the regular season ended today, three NFC south teams would play on wild-card weekend.

In a clash between two of the league’s best running teams, the Panthers will be looking for redemption after the Saints blew them out 34-13 on Sept. 24. The pressure will be on Cam Newton, both literally and figuratively, after he completed just 39 per cent of his passes against the New York Jets last weekend — and with Cameron Jordan likely in his face all day long.

For New Orleans, Sunday’s fight for the division lead will be the first of four NFC South battles in their last five games, including two against the Falcons, so setting the tone for December will be key after a disappointing loss in L.A. last Sunday.
Spoiler Alert

Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals, Sunday 4:25 PM
The Rams are riding high after an impressive home win over the Saints in Week 12 as they make the trip to Arizona to face a Cardinals team Jared Goff and company lambasted 33-0 back in October.

Sean McVay’s team is coming off its best win of the season, and that means only one thing: Trap game!

The Cardinals are fresh off playing spoiler in a last-second win over Jacksonville last weekend, and Blaine Gabbert has played well since relieving Drew Stanton (not a joke). Historically, Bruce Arians’s squad plays other NFC West teams tough at home and a close game between these two rivals wouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

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