The New Orleans Saints likely are headed to the playoffs, and they want as many games as possible to be played at the Superdome.
To get any postseason matches in the Big Easy, though, the Saints must find a way to win one on the road. Now.
New Orleans (No. 7 in the AP Pro32) travels to Carolina (No. 5, AP Pro32) on Sunday in a matchup basically to decide the division crown. Oh yeah, there’s almost certainly a first-round playoff bye at stake given the weakness of the NFC East and North.
Saints coach Sean Payton recognizes the need for his team to wake up away from home. New Orleans (10-4) has lost at the Patriots, Jets, Seahawks and Rams this season. Most troubling, the Saints were handled quite easily in their last two road games.
“It’s our job with an important game coming up to make corrections and then also to look closely at whom we are asking to do certain things,” Payton said, perhaps threatening some lineup changes.
Hearing that concern on the Saints’ side should be encouraging to fans of the Panthers (10-4), who had an eight-game winning string snapped two weeks ago in New Orleans. They then whipped the Jets while the Saints were falling to the Rams.
Carolina is 6-1 at home, the only defeat in the season opener to Seattle — merely the league’s best squad right now.
“We’ll be at home, which is huge,” Panthers tackle Jordan Gross said. “The dome is a tough place to play and they were coming off a tough loss, so shame on us if we didn’t see that coming. But, we’re feeling confident again. We never really lost confidence after the last game, but it was definitely a bit of a wakeup call to go down there and lose like we did.”
The Panthers, 3-point favorites, will win this time.
No. 30 Oakland (plus 10) at No. 16 San Diego — Chargers showing lots of life. Not so for Raiders. ... BEST BET: CHARGERS, 37-13
No. 19 Dallas (minus 3) at No. 31 Washington — We know, this makes no sense. Neither does anything Cowboys do. ... UPSET SPECIAL: REDSKINS, 33-31
No. 10 Arizona (plus 10½) at No. 1 Seattle — Seahawks clinch division and home field for NFC playoffs. ... SEAHAWKS, 23-17
No. 12 Chicago (plus 3) at No. 13 Philadelphia — Eagles will pay more attention this week after Minnesota debacle. ... EAGLES, 30-24
No. 29 Atlanta (plus 12) at No. 3 San Francisco, Monday night — Niners seem to be finding their rhythm. ... 49ERS, 30-16
No. 9 Indianapolis (plus 6½) at No. 4 Kansas City — Ditto for Chiefs. Could be wild-card preview. ... CHIEFS, 28-20
No. 26 New York Giants (plus 9) at No. 17 Detroit — Do Giants have anything left? Just enough to cover. ... LIONS, 24-17
No. 2 Denver (minus 10½) at No. 32 Houston — Texans have proven they have nothing left. ... BRONCOS, 40-20
No. 22 Tennessee (minus 5½) at No. 28 Jacksonville — Too high a spread, though visitors should win. ... TITANS, 20-16
No. 14 Miami (minus 2½) at No. 23 Buffalo — Dolphins continue playoff push, still need help. ... DOLPHINS, 20-16
No. 25 Tampa Bay (plus 5½) at No. 18 St. Louis — Rams are best last-place team in league, for what it’s worth. ... RAMS, 23-10
No. 24 Minnesota (plus 7) at No. 8 Cincinnati — Bengals unbeaten at home, stay that way. ... BENGALS, 26-13
No. 6 New England (plus 2½) at No. 11 Baltimore — Just a hunch Ravens will win without a 61-yard field goal. ... RAVENS, 22-20
No. 27 Cleveland (plus 2½) at No. 21 New York Jets — Difficult to pick Jets right now. Impossible to pick Browns. ... JETS, 20-13
No. 20 Pittsburgh (OFF) at No. 15 Green Bay — Packers believe they can steal NFC North. They just might. ... PACKERS, 27-21
2013 RECORD: Against spread: 9-6 (92-113-7). Straight up: 9-7 (133-88-1).
Best Bet: 6-9 against spread, 12-3 straight up.
Upset special: 5-10 against spread, 3-12 straight up.