Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (+2.5, 53.5 o/u)
As we enter Week 6 in the NFL, it feels like there are a handful of teams already playing with their season on the line. For a few squads, another loss would (effectively, if not mathematically) slam the door shut on their already dim playoff hopes. Two such struggling teams will square off on Sunday (October 16), when the Carolina Panthers (1-4 SU, 1-4 ATS) head to New Orleans to take on the Saints (1-3 SU, 2-2 ATS) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (1:00 PM ET).
You already know who I’m taking in this game. Now you get a more thorough explanation why. So sit back and enjoy the reasoning.
While one of these teams was expected to be in this situation, the other was not. The Panthers are coming off a 15-1 season in which they represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. Having retained all the major pieces from their offense and defense, apart from cornerback Josh Norman, the Panthers were supposed to be serious contenders in the NFC again. As we know, that has not been the case.
Carolina still ranks third in total offense and tenth in scoring, but they have turned the ball over more than any other team in the league (14 times). Cam Newton has accounted for six of those turnovers (including five interceptions) while backup Derek Anderson has pitched in with four picks of his own. On top of that, the Panthers o-line – which was embarrassed by Denver in the Super Bowl – hasn’t gotten any better, allowing 13 sacks on the year (tied for sixth-worst).
After missing last week’s game due to a concussion suffered in Week 4, Newton will be back on the field and hoping to find his 2015 form. The league’s reigning MVP has scored eight total touchdowns (six passing, two rushing), but only has a passer rating of 80.2. Carolina will also be welcoming back Jonathan Stewart, who has missed the last three games. The rushing attack has not been the same without him. Although Stewart only has 73 yards on 20 carries, his presence alone draws the attention of opposing defenses.
While turnovers have been a major issue, the Panther defense has also been a topic of concern. The unit ranks 12th in total defense but 23rd in scoring. Thanks to a strong front-seven, they are still quite stingy against the run, only allowing 3.4 yards per carry (fourth), but their secondary misses Josh Norman a lot more than general manager Dave Gettleman thought it would. Rookie corners James Bradberry and Daryl Worley – along with the recently cut Bene’ Benwikere – have been playing like rookies, and it has resulted in the Panthers allowing 7.3 net yards per passing attempt (26th).
That’s a number that should have Drew Brees and the Saints offense licking their chops. New Orleans’ second-ranked passing attack has had two weeks to prepare for the weak Panthers secondary, and you can be sure Sean Payton will have plenty of formations to isolate these rookie corners.
In spite of having the league’s fourth-ranked scoring offense and sixth-ranked total offense, the Saints are still in a desperate situation at 1-3. Their defense has been the root of almost all of their problems; they rank dead-last in scoring and 31st in total defense. Much like the Panther defense, the Saints have struggled against the pass; New Orleans has just struggled a lot more. They rank 29th against the pass, overall, and are allowing 7.6 net yards per attempt (28th).
Unfortunately, they can’t stop the run either, giving up 4.4 yards per carry (26th) and eight touchdowns on the ground (32nd).
Even with extra time to prepare for this game, the Saints can’t fix their lack of talent on the defensive side. Cam Newton is going to be able to move the ball at will, and his defense will at least be able to make the Saints offense one-dimensional.
Ron Rivera was extremely upset that the Panthers’ streak of 30 consecutive games with more than 100 yards on the ground came to an end. He knows the rushing attack is a crucial part of his team’s formula for winning games. That’s all the more true this week against New Orleans. A strong ground game would neutralize the Saints’ offense, keeping Drew Brees on the sideline for lengthy periods of time.
Here’s a fun stat: since 2015 the Saints have allowed their opponent to rush for more than 100 yards 14 times. In those 14 games, they are 3-11 with the only wins coming against the Bucs, Falcons, and Romo-less Cowboys in 2015. (Those were bad teams.)
Carolina is going to rush for 100-plus yards in this game and put together several five-to-six minute drives, causing Drew Brees to lose his rhythm. The Saints will capitalize on some big-play opportunities, but it won’t be enough.
Pick: Panthers (-2.5)
Photo credit: Phil Roeder (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].