5 Things to Watch: Panthers vs. Saints

five things

The Saints are visiting Charlotte on Sunday for an NFC South season finale against the Panthers. Here are Five Things to Watch:

The 1,000-1,000 watch

Christian McCaffrey has been one of the most exciting players to watch in the NFL this year, so it's only fitting all eyes will be on CMC during the Panthers' finale.

With 1,361 rushing yards and 933 receiving yards, McCaffrey is just 67 receiving yards away from joining the elite 1,000-1,000 club. McCaffrey would be just the third player in league history to tally 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season, joining Roger Craig (1985) and Marshall Faulk (1999).

In typical McCaffrey fashion, though, he won't be keeping track of his yardage on Sunday.

"I don't focus on it at all," McCaffrey said. "I'm just going out there and preparing to play a whole game and win."

In an otherwise forgettable season, McCaffrey making history would give the Panthers something to hang their hat on in 2019.

Last chance to prove it

For a number of Panthers, Sunday could be the last time they suit up in black and blue.

After the season concludes on Sunday, 14 Panthers will become unrestricted free agents, including big names like cornerback James Bradberry, safety Tre Boston and edge rusher Mario Addison.

With that being said, Sunday against the Saints will be the last opportunity for players like Bradberry to make a case for a big contract come 2020, whether that's in Carolina or elsewhere.

"I feel like I've put enough film out there, I've done what I needed to do to put myself in a good position going into free agency," Bradberry said. "It's going to be my last opportunity playing with some of the guys on this team. It's just the nature of the beast, so I'm looking forward to going out there, giving my all for those guys, and us having fun in our last one."

After having played on four teams in four years, Boston has learned not to focus on what comes next, but instead, to enjoy what's guaranteed.

"I've just got to go out there and play for my guys. We've got one last game," Boston said. "Free agency is going to come, it hasn't gone the way I wanted it the last two years, so I'm not going to just go in here and play for free agency. I put all the film out there, I just want to play for my guys and have fun, because you never know when it's your last time playing with some of these guys."

It was clear from the start of the season that this would be a "prove it" year, and Sunday marks the last chance to do just that.

Saints are coming to play

Week 17 matchups typically go one of two ways: either there's a lot on the line, or not much at all.

The Panthers may not have anything riding on Sunday's outcome, but the Saints do. The No. 1 seed in the NFC is still up for grabs and depending on results around the league on Sunday, the Saints could land anywhere from one to three playoff seeding.

With a first-round bye and home-field advantage on the line, don't expect the Saints to rest any starters like they did in Week 17 against Carolina last year.

That means Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and the rest of the Saints' weapons will be locked and loaded, and that's enough to get linebacker Luke Kuechly ready to play.

"Obviously, at the end of the season you'd like it to mean something, but it will mean something because it's a division game," Kuechly said. "It's our last game of the season and it's against a really good team, the Saints. It's probably not what we wanted it to be, but it's still a great opportunity."

Who steps up at receiver?

Last week, wide receiver DJ Moore went down on just the sixth offensive play of the game with a concussion. After emerging as one of the league's best receivers during the second half of the year, losing Moore was a huge blow to rookie quarterback Will Grier in his debut.

Moore, who has been in concussion protocol all week, will miss the first game of his young NFL career on Sunday. The Panthers struggled to replace Moore on the road last Sunday, but with a full week of preparation, it will be interesting to see how they adjust to his absence.

"It's going to be a group effort," offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. "We have some different guys, Chris Hogan, Brandon Zylstra. Those guys will kind of roll in there, but it won't just be one guy."

In addition to Hogan and Zylstra, DeAndrew White was featured heavily last week after Moore's injury, and No. 3 wideout Jarius Wright will be expected to step up, too.

Momentum heading into the offseason

It's no secret there will be plenty of changes coming soon to Carolina. A win on Sunday could help launch things into motion with some positive momentum to start the next era for the Panthers.

Win or lose, solid play at quarterback would be a huge positive heading into the offseason. Who's under center next year is one of the biggest questions the Panthers have to address this offseason, and if the third-round pick Grier makes progress in his second start, he may make the discussion a bit more interesting.

"I think it just gives you a good taste moving into the offseason," Kuechly said. "You'd rather go into the offseason with a win to close out the season, so it gives a little bit of a boost for us going into the offseason. We hope to go out there and put our best foot forward this week and execute what we've been doing in practice."

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