How to Watch Saints vs. Panthers

Cam Newton

The Vikings had faced all three of their potential divisional round opponents during the regular season, beating the Saints 29-19 in Week 1 and topping the Rams 24-7 in Week 11 before losing 31-24 to the Panthers on December 10.

It will be either the New Orleans Saints or Carolina Panthers coming to Minnesota for the NFC divisional playoffs, after the sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons knocked off the No. 3 Los Angeles Rams 26-13 on Saturday night.

And he'll face an added obstacle by matching up against Saints Pro Bowl corner (and defensive rookie of the year candidate) Marshon Lattimore, who missed both regular-season games against Carolina. The Carolina Panthers are looking for another shot at the championship since losing it to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50, while the New Orleans Saints haven't been to the big dance since Super Bowl 34 in 2009. Let's take a look.

FAMILIAL INSPIRATION: Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose 72 percent completion rate this season was an NFL record, enters his first playoff game in four years just days after traveling to Texas for the funeral of his 92-year-old grandfather, Ray Akins, a World War II veteran and long-time high school football coach.

Newton drove Carolina to a first down at the Saints 21, but the game ended with a fourth-down sack by safety Vonn Bell. Meanwhile, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was terrible, passing for just 167 yards and three interceptions.

But the problem for New Orleans is possible overconfidence, while human nature says Carolina will be motivated.

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It will be the Saints' second trip to Minneapolis this season.

"It's going to be a big deal for us to get the running game going early", running back Cameron Artis-Payne told USA TODAY Sports. Carolina is best when they can keep the offense on the field with Newton opening things up with his legs. Olsen got the payoff with a 14-yard slant, easily beating safety Rafael Bush to the inside, and Carolina had cut the deficit to 24-19 with 12:47 left.

The referees ordered Newton into the sideline tent to be evaluated for a concussion, but a few minutes later, he bounced out with ice on his forehead and looked ready to return. He's arguably as important to his team as any one player in the league. At the same time, Carolina could have a hard time convincing itself it can win because it has lost twice, and neither was close.

Unfortunately for Carolina, it won't be enough.

The third time was not a charm for the Carolina Panthers.

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