Cam Newton key to Panthers' playoffs hopes vs. Saints

Panthers vs. Saints Point Spread: NFL Wildcard Odds, Prediction

Saints host 1st playoff game since '11, but it has sounded like postseason for a while

Two plays later, Newton was sacked and the Saints had sealed their third - and biggest - win of the season against the Panthers. If the play had been reviewed and overturned, Carolina's drive would have started its potential game-winning drive from its own 47 instead of its own 31. The wheels kept turning for Brees, who found Josh Hill for a 9-yard TD pass and put together one of the best sequences of the season in the process: completing all seven passes on the drive for 79 yards.

-Football's a amusing game, example No. 13,424: Graham Gano missed a 25-yard field goal, his first miss under 30 yards in 53 attempts. Brees carried a passer rating over 150 the entire first half, averaging double-digit yards on a per-attempt basis against a top-10 passing defense.

The Saints lost starting left guard Andreas Peat with a leg injury in the second quarter and his teammates rallied in his absence. He had to be carted off with his left leg immobilized.

The victory puts the Saints into the divisional round next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, site of next month's Super Bowl. "I think it broke the seal for us offensively, and obviously, got the crowd rolling". Carolina may not have gone 15-1 like the NFC Championship team from 2015, but the Panthers could absolutely win the NFC for the second time in three years. Olsen got wide open near the right sideline to get the Panthers to the red zone, then worked himself free in the end zone, as Carolina finally didn't settle for a field goal.

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Brees gave the Saints some breathing room on the Saints' next possession, rolling right and finding Michael Thomas for a 46-yard gain to the Carolina 5.

When New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton worked for Bill Parcells as an offensive play-caller, he occasionally was accused by his crusty boss of "wandering off the reservation" in his decision-making.

Late in the game, the Saints were clinging to a lead after Panthers safety Mike Adams intercepted a pass from Brees, and again, it was another former Buckeyes standout who made an impactful play.

The Vikings went 13-3 during the regular season and won the NFC North while the Saints went 11-5 and won the NFC South. "I said, 'You have a play you like?' He said, 'Yeah'". With the top-seed Eagles missing Carson Wentz and an underdog to the sixth-seeded Falcons next Saturday, the Saints-Vikings victor would host the NFC championship game if the Falcons win. Nobody in the NFC has more playoff experience than Carolina.

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The former MVP also tallied his second-longest touchdown pass of his career in the postseason on Sunday, a 55-yard hookup with rookie running back Christian McCaffrey.

Newton was flagged when he avoided defensive end Cam Jordan's rush by throwing the ball out of bounds, turning what would have been a second-and-10 into a third-and-23. But they let him go after last season even though he caught 54 passes for 752 yards, so he does not need a lot of butter for this game.

On an evening where the Carolina Panthers completely shut down star running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram (45 yards combined), Brees took control.

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