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Each Tuesday, WhatIfSports.com's NFL simulation engine will provide you with predictions, box scores and statistics for every NFL game that week. The NFL simulation engine generates detailed information including the home team's chances of winning (Home Win %), average score and comprehensive box score link. If you want to share your new found NFL knowledge with friends and family, make sure to check out our NFL Widgets on the WhatIf To Go page or click on the social networking share bar located at the top and bottom of the article.
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Game of the Week: Saints at Panthers
Last season was a lost cause for the Saints and Panthers. New Orleans, encumbered by the season-long suspension of coach Sean Payton, stumbled out of the gate with four straight losses. Carolina found itself in a similar boat, notching a lone win in the first two months as Cam Newton failed to progress in his sophomore campaign. Though each ended 2012 on positive notes, both were left in the cold come playoff time.
In a sense, these fortunes have changed for the better in 2013, as the Saints and Panthers enter Week 16 with 10 wins each under their belts. Alas, a postseason invite is not guaranteed, with the San Francisco 49ers also flaunting 10 victories and the Arizona Cardinals right behind with nine. The winner from this weekend's New Orleans – Carolina tilt clinches the NFC South division title and a first-round bye, while the loser is left fighting for the final Wild Card spot. This gravitas makes the Charlotte showdown our WhatIfSports.com NFL Game of the Week.
Carolina has come out on top in nine of its past 10 contests, including wins over San Francisco, New England and Miami. However, you could understand one's apprehension in picking the Panthers this weekend. Ron Rivera's club seemed totally outmatched against the Saints in the Big Easy a mere two weeks ago. Carolina's defense, a vaunted crew that arrived at the Superdome allowing just over 12 points per contest during the squad's eight-game winning streak, was decimated by Drew Brees and the air attack. Worse, Newton and the Panthers offense were stuck in neutral, making their lone trip to pay dirt with only five minutes to go in 31-13 blowout. Every NFL squad has one week where things don't go their way, but given the peripherals and implications associated with said matchup, it's fair to question if Carolina owns the maturity and temerity to succeed at this juncture of the season.
Continued fortitude from the Panthers resistance will go a ways in calming these troubled waters. Reigning Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly (122 tackles) headlines a defense surrendering 14.9 points per game, second-best in the league. Kuechly, along with Charles Johnson (nine sacks), Greg Hardy (eight sacks) and Thomas Davis (103 tackles, four sacks), highlight a front seven that is holding opponents to 84.9 yards per appearance, second only to Arizona for tops in the league. Yet while this group gets the majority of the attention, the secondary has held up its end of the bargain, ranking fifth in the NFL at 211.4 passing yards per game.
This unit will get a shot at redemption on Sunday against the only offense that has surpassed the 30-point barrier on the Panthers in 2013. Somewhat surprisingly, scoring has not been as easy for the Saints as believed. Although New Orleans ranks fifth in the league with 397 total yards per contest, the offense has been unable to translate these figures to the scoreboard. In fact, here's a stat that will blow your socks off: the Vikings are averaging more points per game (25.9) than the Saints (25.6). Concededly, that number still ranks 10th in the league, yet given its preeminent reputation, the offense's bark is not living up to its bite.
Some of this fallout derives from Brees' struggles on the road. In the friendly confines of the Crescent City, the Super Bowl MVP has been magnificent, hitting 73.2 percent of his targets for 2,454 yards (350.6 per game) for 24 total scores and three turnovers, leading the Saints to a 7-0 mark. Away from Louisiana? Not so much: a 63.4 completion percentage, 12 end-zone excursions and nine turnovers, equating to a 3-4 record. With Brees' performance particularly disconcerting in Seattle during a Week 13 journey (22-for-38, 147 yards, one touchdown, fumble lost), it's imperative for New Orleans to grab a W this weekend to keep the venerable arm indoors in January as long as possible.
So who claims the NFC South throne? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com NFL simulation engine, the Saints emerge triumphant 52.6 percent of the time by an average margin of 23-22. For the rest of this week's projections, check below:
Please note: The Giants-Lions, Vikings-Bengals, Colts-Chiefs, Steelers-Packers, Buccaneers-Rams, Saints-Panthers, Dolphins-Bills, Titans-Jaguars, Patriots-Ravens, Cowboys-Redskins and Broncos-Texans games were resimulated on 12/20 to account for injuries and roster updates.
NFL Week 16
|@ San Francisco 49ers||71.0||24||Simulate Game|
|New York Giants||31.9||23||Boxscore|
|@ Detroit Lions||68.1||29||Simulate Game|
|@ Seattle Seahawks||66.1||21||Simulate Game|
|@ Cincinnati Bengals||64.1||25||Simulate Game|
|@ Kansas City Chiefs||60.4||23||Simulate Game|
|@ San Diego Chargers||59.1||25||Simulate Game|
|@ Philadelphia Eagles||56.4||24||Simulate Game|
|@ New York Jets||52.8||20||Simulate Game|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||47.8||20||Boxscore|
|@ St. Louis Rams||52.2||21||Simulate Game|
|New Orleans Saints||52.6||23||Boxscore|
|@ Carolina Panthers||47.4||22||Simulate Game|
|@ Jacksonville Jaguars||42.3||17||Simulate Game|
|@ Green Bay Packers||38.3||24||Simulate Game|
|New England Patriots||64.2||24||Boxscore|
|@ Baltimore Ravens||35.8||20||Simulate Game|
|@ Washington Redskins||35.5||27||Simulate Game|
|@ Buffalo Bills||31.8||17||Simulate Game|
|@ Houston Texans||22.9||18||Simulate Game|
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