New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 21, 2017 at 1:13 PM
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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (0-2) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (2-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Bank of America Stadium. TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Kristina Pink (field reporter).

SERIES HISTORY: 45th regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 24-20. The Panthers are 12-10 at home against the Saints, having won the last two. Carolina has won four of the last five overall.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints have to play better pass defense than they have during the first two games if they are going to have a chance. They rank last in the NFL in pass defense and defensive pass efficiency after the Vikings' Sam Bradford and the Patriots' Tom Brady were close to flawless in the first two games.

New Orleans has to slow down a Carolina offense that has enabled the Panthers to have a time-of-possession advantage of 59:06 to 30:54 in the last six quarters.

Drew Brees and the Saints are third in the NFL in yards (386.5 per game) but are not getting into the end zone (19.5 points per game). They will have to sustain drives better against Carolina's defense, which leads the league in points (six total) and yards (196.5 per game) through two games.

The Panthers will need to generate more offense in this game, so expect to see an expansion of the playbook. As good as the Panthers have been defensively, they're bound to have to score more than nine points to beat Brees and the Saints.

Protecting QB Cam Newton is one of the keys. He has been pressured heavily this season and that might account for some of his erratic throws. The Panthers must find ways to make their quarterback comfortable again so he has time to take advantage of the defenses he faces.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Saints running backs vs. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly. The Saints have yet to establish a consistent run game and Kuechly has been the most prolific tackler in the NFL since entering the league in 2012. RBs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are among New Orleans' top five receivers and Kuechly has more interceptions than any other linebacker in the NFL since 2012.

--Panthers running backs vs. Saints LB A.J. Klein. The Panthers want their running backs, particularly rookie Christian McCaffrey, to find room in space. This can come as part of the passing attack, so it will be noteworthy to see whether Klein, who played for the Panthers his entire career until going to the Saints in the offseason, recognizes the schemes. However, he won't have even practice experience in dealing with McCaffrey.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Panthers LB Thomas Davis. The veteran linebacker still enjoys a good rivalry and the Saints provide one of those for the Panthers in the NFC South. Davis seems determined to show he isn't slowing down in his 13th NFL season. He's coming off a team-high seven-tackle performance against the Buffalo Bills.

FAST FACTS: Saints QB Drew Brees threw for 356 yards and two TDs in Week 2. In his past three vs. Carolina, he has 1,032 passing yards (344 per game), nine TDs and three INTs (104.3 rating). ... Saints WR Michael Thomas led the team with five receptions for 89 yards last week. He has 10 catches for 146 yards and a TD in the past two meetings. He has averaged 94.2 yards per game, with three TDs in five games, vs. the division. ... Saints WR Ted Ginn Jr. spent three seasons with Carolina (2013, 2015-16) and scored 19 TDs. ... Carolina QB Cam Newton has passed for 507 yards, three TDs and no INTs in the past two home meetings. He also has four rushing TDs in the past six games vs. the Saints. ... Carolina RB Jonathan Stewart has four rushing TDs in the past three meetings. He has 6,743 career rushing yards and needs 104 to become the team's all-time leader (DeAngelo Williams gained 6,846).

PREDICTION: The Saints are giving up 32.5 points per game, a number even Brees can't overcome on a weekly basis. The Panthers aren't as prolific on offense, but the Saints will make them look better than they are.

OUR PICK: Panthers, 24-20.

--Chris Cluff

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