By Ted Fleming
New Orleans Saints by the numbers
2012 Record: 7-8
Record vs. Panthers: 17-18
Streak vs. Panthers: L1
Last Meeting: Panthers 35, Saints 25 (9/16/12)
Next Game: Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (73,000), New Orleans LA @ 1:00pm
The New Orleans Saints head into their season finale in an unusual position. They will not be preparing for the postseason for the first time since 2008, when they split the 16 game schedule. But while there is nothing on the line team wise, Drew Brees still has some records in sight each could be his exclusively.
The 33-year old Saints quarterback is one touchdown throw away from becoming the first player in NFL history with at least 40 touchdown passes in back-to-back seasons. He led the league with 46 TD passes in 2011. Hall of Famer Dan Marino also turned the trick, but not in successive years. He did it on 1984 and 1986.
Brees is also nearing another league mark although he has some competition. With just 219 yards through the air, Brees will become the first player to throw for 5,000 in back-to-back seasons. However, if the Panthers can keep stifle the Saints passing attack, which few people have been able to do for years, the Lions’ Matthew Stafford can own the record with 305 yards.
For the Saints, this will be the final game for interim head coach Joe Vitt, who will hand the reins back to Sean Payton if he decides to return. There is speculation he could be headed to the Cowboys or elsewhere after the Super Bowl because the NFL voided his contract, essentially making him a free agent. Vitt would get serious consideration for the top job is that happens.
Many believe that Payton was instrumental in the development of Brees and he was able to reach his lofty 2012 numbers without his mentor.
The Panthers also have a coaching situation, but it is a bit different than the Saints. Ron Rivera should find out soon after the game whether he will return for his third season in Charlotte and a win could help his cause.
Overall, the Saints are playing well after a horrendous and damaging 0-4 start, going 7-4 since, and they have a lot in common with their NFC South counterparts. Having opened the year 1-6, the Panthers have gone 5-3 and are rolling having won three straight. They also have a win against the Saints from earlier in the year when they were not going very well. In fact it was their only victory until they toppled the Redskins in Week 9, but this is a much different team than when Carolina and New Orleans met in the second week.
The Panthers have leaped into the upper echelon of the NFL in defense and despite some rather curious actions last week, Cam Newton may be playing the best football of his young career. The 23 year old needs just 2,003 passing yards to eclipse Peyton Manning’s first two season record of 7,874 which is the most ever thrown for in the first two years.
Saints 24, Panthers 21
Panthers: Defensive quality control coach/assistant defensive line Sam Mills III is the son of former Saints standout linebacker Sam Mills, who played for New Orleans from 1986-94 and is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame. Offensive line coach John Matsko served in the same position in New Orleans from 1994-96.
Saints: Secondary coach Ken Flajole coached linebackers for the Panthers from 2003-08.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.