Carolina Panthers (11-5) at New Orleans Saints (11-5)
The Saints are my pick to come out of the NFC. With the Eagles losing Carson Wentz for the season, the Saints are now the most complete team in the NFC, with the Rams and Vikings following close behind. I give the edge to the Saints because quarterback Drew Brees is better and more experienced than either Jared Goff or Case Keenum. The Saints also get to open their post-season at home against a Carolina team that they’ve beaten twice so far this season. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Saints are definitely going to win a 3rd time, as teams are just 4-2 in the post-season against a team they defeated twice in the regular season, but the Saints have had a significant edge over the Panthers in their first 2 matchups, winning both by double digits.
The Panthers also finished the season significantly behind the Saints in point differential and first down rate differential. The Saints had a point differential of +122 and a first down rate differential of +3.73%, while the Panthers were +36 and +1.85% in those two metrics. Both teams finished at 11-5, but the Panthers got to 11-5 on the strength of a 8-1 record in games decided by 8 points or less, so they easily could have finished 9-7 and out of the post-season if a few things had gone differently. Their point differential is 3rd worst among playoff teams and worse than two non-playoff qualifiers, the Chargers and the Ravens. We aren’t getting enough line value with the Saints to bet on them this week, but they should be the right pick for pick ‘em purposes.
New Orleans Saints 27 Carolina Panthers 19
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -6.5