In His Head
Cam Newton focuses on the past with broom, while Saints lockin on playoff bye, home-field advantage
When the New Orleans Saints’ 2018 schedule was released, two dates stood out above all the rest – New Orleans would have to play NFC South Division Rival Carolina twice in the last three weeks of the season.
After getting burned by teams wrapping up playoff positioning around Thanksgiving, leaving a month of late season dud games that nobody wanted to watch, NFL schedule makers started filling the last four to five weeks of the season with divisional matchups designed to make the entirety of the season compelling, and, more to the point, profitable. That’s why the Saints have four of their six divisional games scheduled to be played in or after late November. The league wants the games to matter, and they’ve gotten exactly what they wanted.
With a 10-game win streak to their credit, New Orleans was a bit of an outlier this season. They won the division, securing a spot in the playoffs, in their first game in December. Truth is, they were in position to do it the last week in November, but it was prevented by a loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Right now, at 11-2, the Saints are in first place in the conference race due to a head-to-head win over the Los Angeles Rams, also 11-2. In order to retain the top seed, which ensures a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, neither team can slow down and rest players for the postseason. The Chicago Bears (9-4) and Cowboys (8-5) are lurking just behind the front runners, currently in the third and fourth seeds. The Seattle Seahawks (8-5) are in fifth and the Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1) have a loose grip on the sixth and final playoff spot. There are, however, three weeks to go and a lot of ball to play. The Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins are all 6-7. All have a chance to bump the Vikings out of the sixth seed.
The Panthers were 6-2 five weeks ago, but are suffering through a five-game losing streak. There are signs that Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has an injury to this throwing shoulder, accounting for the team’s dip in performance. But this week, ahead of meeting the Saints in two of the next three games, Newton was flexing, perhaps, his strongest muscles – those of his mouth. He revealed that a broom, which has been hanging in his locker the entirety of the season, was sent to him in the offseason from someone in New Orleans, allegedly Cam Jordan. The broom, of course, is in reference to the Saints three-game sweep of the Panthers in two regular season and one playoff game last season.
Rather than laughing it off, being self-motivated to improve, and trying like the devil to beat the Saints after last year’s 0-for effort, Newton, this week, is focusing on the broom. That’s mighty fine coming from a player who tries to intimidate opponents on the regular.
Are the Saints in his head? It appears so.
Newton is reaching out and trying to grab onto something to add drama and motivation for himself and his team. Fine. Good. Great.
The truth is New Orleans has beaten Carolina in four of their last five meetings. It has been said that in those matchups, Saints head coach Sean Payton was playing chess while the Panthers were playing checkers.
Both teams have a lot to play for in front of a nationally televised audience on Monday Night.
Payton has already stressed to the team how important a first-round playoff bye is and how home-field advantage would benefit the team in its quest to reach the Super Bowl. The first-round bye is within reach and could be claimed by the time this weekend’s games are through.
The Saints are looking forward. They are focused on big, life-changing goals – going to and winning the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are looking backward. Instead of talking about doing everything they can to challenge for the playoffs this year, they are focused on events from last season.
While it was childish for Cam Jordan or whomever to send the broom to Newton (if that is what truly happened), take a minute, like Jay-Z says, to brush that dirt off your shoulders. If the Saints season goes as planned and they win out with another season sweep over the Panthers, send a black and gold dust mop to Newton to decorate his locker next year.