Panthers vs Saints Preview

This is a playoff rematch, a game which the Saints won to sweep the season series from the Panthers a year ago. (Photo: Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports)

Monday Night Football this week takes us to Charlotte for an NFC South rivalry, where both teams have big, but very different playoff implications. New Orleans is working on finishing up getting a first-round bye in the playoffs and they are also still fighting for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. On the other side, the Panthers are sitting at 6-7 and are on a five-game losing streak, but they are still alive when it comes to making the postseason and with these two teams playing twice in the last two weeks, Carolina will have to find a way to beat New Orleans at least once.

Saints offense vs Panthers defense

For a while, New Orleans looked like they might have the best offense in NFL history, but it has slowed down a good amount in the past two weeks against the Cowboys and Buccaneers, a stretch where the Saints have gone 1-1. They will be looking to get back on track in this one against a defense that has been fairly vulnerable this season, especially through the air.

The key for New Orleans will be for someone to step up catching passes besides Michael Thomas. I think that person needs to be Alvin Kamara and they should get back to trying to get him the ball in a number of different ways and using him as the matchup nightmare that he is, but in the event that the Panthers sell out to stop him, some of the tight ends like Josh Hill or Tom Arnold need to step up, or possibly a guy like Keith Kirkwood.

Perhaps the biggest thing for the Saints will be the availability of left tackle Terron Armstead. He’s been out of action for a few weeks now with a pectoral injury and that’s coincided with the Saints offense not looking as good, which isn’t surprising because he’s one of the best left tackles in the league.

Panthers offense vs Saints defense

Carolina is built completely on the running game. They rank second in the league in rushing yards per game and that’s really not surprising because Cam Newton is their quarterback, but second-year running back Christian McCaffrey is having a great season, with 926 yards on the ground.

Now McCaffrey also has 701 yards receiving so he’s turned out to be the dual-threat running back in the NFL that he was in college, and if Carolina is going to win this game they will need him to be amazing, because Cam Newton has been dealing with a shoulder injury and clearly isn’t the same. Newton hasn’t been able to put the same zip on the ball and with his other main target Greg Olsen being out for the year and him not being able to stretch the field as much because of his shoulder injury, expect him to look McCaffrey’s way a lot in the passing game.

The catch with this is the Saints rank first in football in yards per game allowed against the rush, making this a tough ask for Carolina. Newton will need to find a way to stretch the defense somewhat to keep them honest so that run game can do what it normally does.

Special teams

I’m giving the edge to New Orleans here because Graham Gano is dealing with a knee injury that forced him to miss last week and his status for this game is still up in the air. A leg injury for a kicker is less than ideal and could easily have a big impact on the game.

Overall

Carolina should play really tough in this game because they’re at home, on a losing streak, playing a division rival and most importantly, their playoff hopes are on the line. I expect a really good effort from the Panthers and for their defense to be able to hold them in this game and give them a chance to win, but ultimately, Drew Brees will make some big plays and find a way to lead his team to a road win in a fairly low-scoring game.

Pick: Saints

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