The New Orleans Saints are 0-2. The Carolina Panthers are 2-0. It's a home game for Carolina, but without their #1 WR in Kelvin Benjamin. The Saints are without Drew Brees. Still no Luke this week due to his concussion, but A.J. Klein filled the bill well last week in reserve - at least the Panthers have both breadth AND depth at linebacker, the deepest position group on the entire team. The Saints no longer have Jimmy Graham OR Kenny Stills, and Mark Ingram is going to face a very, very stout Panthers defense...a legitimate top-five unit. The Saints rank 24th in overall defense.
A Litmus Test
The Carolina Panthers frankly should dominate this contest, if what we are seeing so far this season is as "legit" as a rent.com commercial with the funny black guy in the glasses - the "Legitimaster" - says it is.
I listed the most glaring in the opening paragraph, but add to it that second-year WR Brandin Cooks continues to disappoint for those with lofty expectations. Not having Brees tossing the rock around makes things that much harder for the Saints, and the Panthers have a "hybrid" offense that no other team in the NFL quite can mimic, causing defensive teams to enter contests with the Panthers with a bit of uncertainty but likely always having game-planned for Cam's power running a bit during the previous week.
On paper, and from what I've seen so far, the Panthers have nearly all the advantages. The offensive line is playing MUCH better than we feared they might. Even with two of the team's top-three talents being out for the game isn't such a handicap when you consider what the Saints have lost since the teams last met. Many of their problems are cap-related while the Panthers are a team with cap issues largely behind them after several years of working through the meat of Marty Hurney's "legacy."
If the Panthers blow out the Saints, it should affirm that the team is really a top-ten team....or one that at least beats the teams that they are "supposed" to. A close game or a loss will spell trouble for the team's prospects during mid-season when the schedule gets tougher. Or, depending on the game itself, if the Saints have a lot of "fight" in them, they could keep things fairly close but I just don't see the Panthers losing this one unless they just GIVE it away with a lot of mistakes.
September in the South
The Saints, being a divisional opponent, are going to be familiar with Cam and his unique abilities more than most, but that doesn't mean they can stop him. This is one case where I doubt the Superdome would help them all that much. And being a "dome" team, they probably aren't used to the humidity there will be in Charlotte today. Only the Bucs, Dolphins, and Jags can "hang" there, and possibly the Texans or Titans.
This means their defense should really wear down in the second half. Look for Jonathan Stewart to get his first 100-yard rushing game of the season as hopefully OC Mike Shula saves some wear and tear on Newton and lets Stewie and a bit of the second Cam, the Artis-Payne variety, should see more action as the rookie picks more things up. Could be a good bargain week to pickup Stewie for a FanDuel match, perhaps.
Those 3-yard runs in the first half should become 7-yard chunks as the defense tires. Look for that in the second half.
Ah, September outside in the South - another check mark for Carolina's home field advantage.
The Rubber Week often Sets the Tone for the Season
Yeah...if you go 2-1 against weaker teams, it shows you aren't taking care of business that you could and should be taking care of. A 3-0 start would be enough to show me that the Panthers are a team who knows HOW TO WIN, and that's a very important psychological milestone for a team trying to get to the Super Bowl and win it.
I think the pressure is on the Panthers far more than it is on New Orleans. Everybody realizes the Saints are in a rebuilding mode and we've seen the talent exodus since 2014 and we know of the injury to their future first-ballot Hall of Fame QB. NO team can bounce back from the sort of damage the Saints have suffered and be competitive for the playoffs.
Some are saying this could be a "trap" game, but I think the exact opposite. The Panthers want to and NEED to make a statement here especially after dominating the Houston Texans last week only to find themselves having to stop a late drive and keep them from tying the score. That late drive never was very "scary," other than the fact it existed in the first place, but I credit that to Houston not giving up as much as anything else. They, too, had a new QB starting against us than they did from the previous week...although by choice, not by injury.
Panthers 31, Saints 10
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