The New Orleans Saints' 2022 season will end Sunday in the Caesars Superdome against Carolina, with neither a playoff position to jockey for, nor a spoilers' role to play.
But the Saints (7-9) still want to finish the right way, and the right way for New Orleans would be to cap the season with its fourth consecutive victory against a Panthers team that has been feisty, to say the least, since undergoing an in-season coaching change.
Here are a few ways the Saints can end on a high note:
1. HAMMER AWAY: On offense, what has worked best for the Saints during their three-game winning streak has been the ground game – 129 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries against Philadelphia, 152 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries against Cleveland and 134 yards on 34 carries against Atlanta. Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill have led the way, and there's no reason that shouldn't be the case again Sunday. It'd be nice for the team to get in position to give Kamara a few shots at scoring a touchdown, which would be the 73rd of his six-year career and would establish a franchise all-time record. Regardless, running the ball and controlling the clock have worked and can be effective again against Carolina, which allows 121.4 rushing yards per game but only has given up 89.3 per game in the last three.
2. PASSING FANCY: That said, there's reason to believe New Orleans can successfully throw against the Panthers, too. Tampa Bay roasted Carolina last week – Tom Brady completed 34 of 45 passes for 432 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions, and Mike Evans caught 10 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns. Saints quarterback Andy Dalton probably won't be throwing it around the yard that often, and rookie receiver Chris Olave may not have as much success as Evans in getting behind Carolina's secondary. But clearly, there's a weakness there that can be exploited – the Panthers allow 232 passing yards per game, eighth most in the league. Olave is 18 receiving yards short of reaching 1,000, so hopefully that'll be taken care of early.
3. MAKE 'EM THROW: New Orleans wants to make Carolina one-dimensional by taking away the run. No surprise there. It would play to the strength of New Orleans' defense, which is this: The Saints get after opposing quarterbacks, to the tune of 46 sacks and 194 passing yards allowed per game. New Orleans had six sacks against the Eagles, with defensive end Cameron Jordan's three boosting him to an all-time, franchise-leading 115.5 in his career, and a team-leading 8.5 this season. Even without starting cornerback Paulson Adebo (hamstring), New Orleans feels good about its cornerbacks now that Marshon Lattimore is back and rookie Alontae Taylor probably had the team's best overall performance at the position in Lattimore's absence. Taylor, who didn't play last week, definitely is back in the lineup this week and he and Lattimore need to play well so that the Saints can devote more to the run game. Because the Panthers will have to run it well in order to be successful on offense.
4. STAY DISCIPLINED: You can't make 'em throw if you can't stop the run. The Panthers run for 127 yards per game, 138 per game in the last three. An effective running game will balance the offense and alleviate some of the pressure on quarterback Sam Darnold, who has seven touchdown passes and only one interception this season. New Orleans can't allow the Panthers to gain four or five yards a pop in the run game; it's hard for the defense to get off the field that way.
5. RIDE THE WAVE: True, the Saints aren't going to the playoffs and, true, they aren't playing spoilers. But they want to finish with a four-game winning streak, and the fans will want to help in any way they can. New Orleans needs to get them involved early – maybe a chunk play on offense with Rashid Shaheed, maybe a forced turnover or sack on defense – and keep them involved.