Thursday, November 4, 2010

Week Nine Preview: Saints Travel to Charlotte, But Which Team Shows Up?

Oh hell…the Saints are playing an awful team on Sunday.

Seriously, the New Orleans Saints have had somewhat of a schizo season thus far, beating what was arguably the best team in the NFL on Halloween night after having dropped two “easy” games to third-ranked teams.

And if the Saints struggle against struggling teams, then they might be in trouble against the 1-6 Carolina Panthers.

Historically, the Black and Gold have never had a lot of success against the Cats. After picking up a win against them in the Superdome this season, the Saints are now 14-17 all-time against one of the NFL’s newer teams.

But even a jinxed Saints team would have to commit a lot of mistakes to lose to the Panthers. Even on the road.

In fact, to paraphrase a certain high school math teacher who reveled in his reputation as having an easy class, the Saints would have to almost work to fail.

The Panthers, led by quarterback Matt Moore who has thrown two picks for every one touchdown, are offensively sleeping with the catfishes. They’re last in scoring with an average of 12.1 points per game and also dead last in yards per game, 251.4, almost equally bad on the ground (31st with 85.6 yards) as they are at passing (28th with 165.9 yards).

The Saints’ defense, 8th in the league in points (18.5), 3rd in yards (287.2), 3rd in passing yards and 16th in rushing yards (108.6) allowed, should be able to contain the Panthers’ offense without too much trouble, especially with starting cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer expected to return, replenishing the team’s badly depleted secondary.

The Saints offense might have running back Reggie Bush back in the lineup, though that has not been determined. Bush has practiced on a limited basis this week and with the Saints facing a weak opponent this weekend and a having a bye the next, Bush’s immediate return isn’t as pressing.

The Saints offense has enjoyed somewhat of a comeback, starting against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then reappearing in the second-half in last week’s game against the defensively potent Pittsburgh Steelers. The Black and Gold offense is 17th in points scored per game (20.9), 9th in yards (365.1) having more success with the pass (5th in the league with 280.4 yards) than they have had with their battered running back corps (29th in the NFL with 85.8 yards per game).

Granted the rushing numbers are going to look bad after facing the Steelers, who excel at stopping opposing team’s running games.

The Carolina defense has performed better than their offense. They’ve allowed 21.4 points per game (18th) and have allowed the 4th fewest overall yards (301.7) and passing yards (182.7). However, the Panthers defense has been relative porous against the run, (21st in the NFL, allowing 119 rushing yards per game). Their defense is 25th in the league in quarterback sacks with 11 and is 6th in interceptions with 10.

Unfortunately for the Saints, as the stats show, their running game isn’t the same it was last year, especially since most of the people who ran the ball in 2009 have spent most of the season sitting on the bench.

Running back Chris Ivory will have another opportunity to shine in Carolina, much like he did in Tampa Bay while quarterback Drew Brees needs to play with more composure than he did against the Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns. When things are going bad, Brees needs to be patient and not compound problems.

At 5-3, the Saints have one of the better records in their conference and if the playoffs started tomorrow, the Black and Gold would be the lowest seed wild card. A Saints win in Carolina would advance them to second in their division since the two teams ahead of them in the NFC South, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, face each other this weekend.

As the Dirty Birds currently have the tie-breaker over the Saints, a Buccaneer win would go a long way to helping the Black and Gold’s chances of winning their division. A loss by Carolina would put them in a hole they probably cannot climb out of regarding their post-season chances and head coach John Fox’s odds of returning to the Panthers next season.

The Saints are the better team and only self-inflicted wounds would tip the balance to the Panthers, even in the mild confines of Bank of America Stadium.

What Says Vegas?

First, let me apologize to anyone who has been taking gambling advice from me. Granted, free safety Darren Sharper’s hands saved last week’s game, but that’s how the ball bounces.
USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Saints as a 6.5 point favorite. The Saints are capable of winning the game by a touchdown and a field goal, but if you lay some money down and things don’t work out (as they haven’t on most of my predictions), don’t send me the bill. That said, give the 6.5…at your own risk.

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