Panthers look to draw closer to the NFC South-leading Saints
The Panthers fell victim to the resurrected Falcons at home. Actually, Atlanta embarrassed Carolina in Charlotte. The Dirty Birds rolled to a 26-0 halftime lead, and the Panthers only avoided a shutout by kicking a field goal early in the fourth quarter, their lone points of the game.
Meanwhile, the Saints' offense started out faster last week at Tampa Bay than they have all season. They scored a season-high 13 points in the first quarter and totaled two field goals and two touchdowns during their first four possessions. Those successful drives gave them more than enough points in a complete team effort. New Orleans' defense also limited the Bucs to 17 points thanks to four takeaways.
The Panthers lead the all-time series, 25-24, and the games in New Orleans have been split, 12-12. However, the Saints have won four of the last five matchups with the Panthers. These division rivals meet twice annually, and New Orleans won their lone playoff matchup in the Wild Card Round of the 2017 season.
Carolina at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 24 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Kyle Allen recapture his magic from earlier in this season?
Allen replaced Cam Newton in Week 3 when the former league MVP went down with a foot injury. No one could have foreseen the spark that Allen would provide off the bat. He led them to four straight victories during which he threw seven touchdown passes and no interceptions. But in the last four games, he has thrown only three touchdowns to nine interceptions. It is no coincidence that the Panthers have dropped three of those four contests.
Allen does have experience starting against the Saints in New Orleans. He started the regular-season finale of the 2018 season, when he completed 16 of 27 passes for two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was not sacked and carried the ball five times for 19 yards and a touchdown. However, those statistics came against a Saints defense composed mostly of reserves since New Orleans had already wrapped up home-field advantage before the game.
2. Will the Saints be able to contain Christian McCaffrey?
McCaffrey has served as the main cog in the Panthers' offense. He is averaging 105.9 yards on the ground on 5.3 yards per carry. He has scored 11 rushing touchdowns and compiled more than five times as many rushing yards as the rest of the Panthers combined. He also ranks second on the team in receptions (59), receiving yards (517), and receiving touchdowns (3).
The star back will have to contend with a Saints' rushing defense that has had a roller-coaster season. After allowing over 100 yards on the ground in the first three games, they held the next five opponents under that figure. Then the Falcons steamrolled the squad with 143 rushing yards in Week 10. But the defense rebounded by holding the Buccaneers to 36 yards last week. Was the Falcons' gashing of New Orleans' defense an anomaly by complacent defenders or a portend of what one of the finest running backs in the NFL could do this Sunday?
3. Can the Saints limit their penalties?
New Orleans has been piling up penalties in its two most recent games. In their first game following their bye week, the Saints committed twelve penalties for 90 yards. Last week, they did reduce the number of both categories, yet still compiled nine penalties for 76 yards.
The Saints' struggles to avoid penalties plagued them earlier this season as well. In Week 2, they committed 11 penalties for 87 yards. The next week, they had the same number of infractions for 70 yards. In Week 4, the Saints managed to reduce the number of penalties yet increased the amount of yardage those cost them.
The Saints cannot afford to give yards to the Panthers. Their defense has shown the capacity to shut down opponents' running games. They must not sabotage that with infractions that gift the Panthers some short conversions on third and fourth down to extend drives.
The Panthers have slumped to 5-5 after losing two straight games. They have fallen so far behind the other playoff contenders in the NFC that a divisional title seems like their only way to advance to the postseason. However, even winning a division title seems daunting. Even if the Panthers win both of their remaining games against the Saints, they'll still trail New Orleans by a game and have to overcome tough opponents in the Seahawks and Colts.
The Saints rebounded from their loss to Atlanta, and they are on the verge of wrapping up the NFC South. They remain in serious contention for the top seed in the NFC. However, they cannot avoid a repeat of their last flop at home.
Prediction: Saints 30, Panthers 20
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.