NFL Playoffs: Who Wins Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints? AI Predicts

Can the Saints beat the Panthers for a third time?

Getty Images / Brian Blanco

The New Orleans Saints reversed three straight years of 7-9 finishes by going 11-5 and winning the NFC South. Key to their success were a pair of victories over the rival Carolina Panthers, who they now meet in the first round. A hive mind of about 50 NFL fans predicts the Saints will win Sunday.

While there’s a longstanding notion that it’s hard for a team to beat another three times in the same season, the reality makes more intuitive sense: The team that has already proven it’s better twice has won the third game in 11 out of 16 such contests all-time. That’s good news for the Saints, who can also point to the fact they beat the Panthers 34-13 early in the season and 31-21 in December. Then again, the closer outcome was actually the more recent game in New Orleans, so perhaps the advantage for the Saints isn’t that pronounced.

Still, this is the playoff debut for the new-look Saints, who have deemphasized the role of Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees in favor of a stout defense and powerful running attack. The Panthers, who are also making their return to the playoffs after a year away, hope that their own star quarterback Cam Newton can put things together after a season that never quite snapped into focus for him. This team was good enough to hand the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots rare losses, so perhaps they have what it takes to at last break through.

From their game in December.

Getty Images / Jonathan Bachman

To predict the result of this and other games, Unanimous A.I. used what’s known as swarm intelligence to forecast the week’s slate. About 50 NFL fans worked together as a hive mind to make picks. As you can see in the animation below, each participant controlled a little golden magnet and used it to drag the puck toward the answer they thought was the most likely outcome. As the users saw the puck move toward a particular outcome, it triggers a psychological response. They readjust their decision-making, building toward a consensus. Here’s Unanimous A.I. founder Louis Rosenberg explaining swarm intelligence at a recent TEDx Talk.

Unanimous A.I. has made some scarily accurate predictions in the past using swarm intelligence, as our previous article explains. For instance, the swarm went a perfect 7-0 in its most recommended picks for an English Premier League slate earlier this season.

Unanimous A.I.

The hive mind predicts the Saints will win, albeit with low confidence and 83 percent brainpower behind the pick. Still, a lot of the dissent is for the Saints with high confidence.

Unanimous A.I.

The swarm predicts the Saints will win by seven to nine points, with 82 percent brainpower behind the pick. Vegas favors New Orleans by a touchdown.

The game kicks off 1 p.m. Eastern Sunday on CBS.

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