As the only unbeaten team left in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers can be dismissed and denigrated no longer. For some reason, the odds-makers made them underdogs in Dallas when they last took the field on Thanksgiving Day. They responded with a 19-point win.
On Sunday they will be touchdown favorites against the Saints, making the Saints the biggest home underdog of the Sean Payton era. And for all sorts of reasons, beside the respective records of the leaders and the laggards of the NFC South.
No one in the NFL has a greater commitment to the running game than the Panthers, who run it more than 34 times a game. Last week the Saints allowed the plodding Texans to rush for 167 yards and have allowed 100 or more yards rushing in each of their last three games - all losses.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are second in the league defending the run. Their last two opponents have combined for 46 yards rushing. The Saints virtually abandoned the run in Houston - attempts in each half for a total of 50 yards rushing.
And when you choose to or must pass against them, the Panthers have picked off an NFL high of 18 interceptions, four of which have been returned for touchdowns. The Saints haven't had one such return in nearly three years.
It's hard to argue with those who see this game as one of the easiest to guarantee the winner on this week's schedule. But upsets happen on a weekly basis in the NFL, and this would truly be one should it happen here.
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