Scott Fowler

Once so attractive, Panthers-Saints finale now feels like a preseason game

Welcome to the rare NFL preseason game in December, where the result is meaningless but the game must still be played.

When the NFL schedule came out in the spring of 2018, this looked like a spectacular finale — New Orleans and Carolina in the Superdome, with all sorts of playoff implications likely on the line.

Instead, what we’re going to get is Kyle Allen playing quarterback for the Panthers in a game that matters a lot to the players still playing — they need jobs in 2019, after all — but not much of anything to anyone else.

New Orleans (13-2) has already clinched the No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC. Given that the Saints are so good on their home indoor track — they are averaging an astounding 37 points per game at home this season — they have to be considered the favorites to make the Super Bowl out of the NFC.

Carolina (6-9) has lost seven straight and now has had to shut down its top two quarterbacks because of injury. The Panthers’ last gasp really came in that Monday night home game against New Orleans Dec. 17, when Carolina wasted its best defensive performance of the season and lost 12-9.

Kurt Coleman certainly landed on his feet in New Orleans, didn’t he? While the Panthers have struggled all season in the secondary, Coleman heads to the playoffs and also had a key caused fumble in the Saints’ victory over Pittsburgh last week. Former Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and linebacker A.J. Klein will join Coleman in the playoffs with the Saints.

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Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil will play his last NFL game Sunday at New Orleans. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

It will be interesting to see how the Panthers handle players such as defensive end Julius Peppers, center Ryan Kalil and linebacker Thomas Davis Sunday. Given that all three are almost assuredly playing their last game for Carolina and possibly in the NFL — Kalil has said so already, while the other two haven’t committed — they probably can do what they want. I would expect all would want to suit up and play some. It’s too bad the finale doesn’t come in a more important game.

Prediction time: I fell to 9-6 for the season by incorrectly picking the Panthers to upset Atlanta at home. Even if the Saints play only second-stringers, they’ve got too much talent. Carolina, once 6-2, falls off the cliff and ends up at 6-10 — the first NFL team to ever make that precipitous drop. It will be an uneasy end in the Big Easy.

My pick: New Orleans 33, Carolina 20.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also hosted the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named the best podcast of the year in 2018.
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