Saints defeat the Panthers 31-26, advance to NFC divisional round

Carolina Panthers Greg Olsen catches a pass as New Orleans Saints Kenny Vaccaro defends in the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte N.C. Sunday Sept. 27 2015

The Carolina Panthers' handling of Cam Newton after the quarterback took a huge hit to the head in the fourth quarter led to plenty of scrutiny during Sunday's wild-card playoff game in New Orleans. Brees needs another strong performance from his running backs in order for the Saints to beat the Panthers for the third time this season.

Sunday's meeting between the Saints and the Panthers was the 21st since the 1970 merger that a team faced a divisional opponent in the playoffs that it had swept in the regular season, according to an ESPN report that cited the Elias Sports Bureau. Let's take a look. Olsen could prove to be the X-factor in the game, providing Newton a big target over the middle of the field he lacked in the previous matchups. The running back tandem of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara has made life much easier on Drew Brees, who is in his 17th year in the league and 12th with the Saints.

Newton drove Carolina to a first down at the Saints 21, but the game ended with a fourth-down sack by safety Vonn Bell. The first matchup between the division rivals occurred all the way back in Week 3 when the Saints destroyed Carolina 34-13 for their first win of the season.

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"From the midpoint of the season, when (Carolina) got on a roll, you can see the confidence grow with that team".

Beyond that, however, the Saints coach asserts that teams evolve over the course of a season as they develop chemistry and adjust to roster or positional changes brought on by injuries.

Eighteen seconds later, Brees responded with an explosive shot, an 80-yard strike to former Carolina receiver Ginn, who caught the ball behind cornerback James Bradberry and raced in for a 7-0 New Orleans lead.

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"That's our plan. We just have to go out and execute". At the same time, Carolina could have a hard time convincing itself it can win because it has lost twice, and neither was close. When I say you, I mean the media as a whole. I feel like I help the team when I run the football. "You pay attention to the personnel and the thing that you didn't do well in the early two games".

That's right - it's possible for the Vikings to defeat the Saints and Falcons en route to Super Bowl LII, payback from two of the more crushing losses in franchise history - 2010 to the Saints and the NFC Championship game loss to Atlanta in 1999. "You look at what they've been doing over the last four or five weeks".

A holding penalty on the Saints secondary gave Carolina a first down at the 21 with 46 seconds to play.

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