Before I get to this week’s game involving the New Orleans Saints, let me address my horrendous decision to go with the Saints against the Seattle Seahawks last week in Seattle. I don’t know what I was thinking, I mean I really don’t know what I was thinking. The whole time I was researching the game and writing the prediction article I was thinking, “Seattle, Seattle, Seattle.” Then for some reason, once it got down to prediction time, my only rationale for picking the Saints was that if the game was close late, no matter the location, I would pick Drew Brees over Russell Wilson. I believed the game was going to be close and I was oh so wrong. Moving on…
Tonight’s Saints game will be in the friendly confines (for the Saints) of the Superdome, but will come against a foe just as difficult as they faced last Monday night: the Carolina Panthers. The added bonus for football fans is that this game is for the lead in the NFC South with both teams tied for the division lead. Also, both teams come into the game with very different emotions as the Saints are coming off a pathetic performance in Seattle while the Panthers are riding into this game on an eight-game win streak.
One thing to consider with both teams is how shaky both have been as of late.
The last month for the Saints has seen them lose on the road against the New York Jets and Seahawks with close wins at home against the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons sandwiched between those losses. The Saints had no business losing to the Jets or playing close with the Falcons, so maybe their loss to the Seahawks was inevitable no matter where it was played and I was just too blind to see it. It’s possible.
This also makes me think about the last half of the Panthers’ winning streak. The last four wins for the Panthers have come against (in order) the 49ers, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Take out the win over the Buccaneers and this team looks just as ripe for a loss against a good team as the Saints were last week. First, they beat the 49ers by a single point in a very low-scoring road game. Then they beat the Patriots in a back-and-forth game thanks in part to a really bad no-call on the game’s final play that would’ve given the Patriots a chance to win the game from the Panthers’ one yard line. And then they needed a last-minute scoring drive to beat the Dolphins in another close road game. Remember, the Panthers are on the road tonight.
Both of these teams are loaded on offense. Cam Newton is having a spectacular year not only statistically, but in how he’s leading his offense and balancing his running with his passing, something that Robert Griffin III hasn’t been able to get down yet in Washington D.C. Brees is in the middle of his standard season of putting up big numbers. The Panthers’ edge on offense will be their running game. Even though Newton gets the scores and the attention, DeAngelo Williams has been mostly quiet while having a good season as the workhorse within the Panthers’ offense.
The Panthers also have one of the better defenses in the league, ranking in the top ten in rushing yard and passing yards given up per game. The Saints have a good pass defense, but are in the middle of the league when it comes to stopping the run though they have gotten plenty of practice against running teams and good running backs. The Panthers have gotten their share of practice against good and great quarterbacks this season, but the problem is that some of those quarterbacks—Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill for example—played good against the Panthers and forced them to have to sweat out a couple of very close wins. Should that happen tonight against Brees, it won’t be good for the Panthers and the lifespan of their winning streak.
The Panthers and Saints are in a similar situation that the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs were in recently: having to play against each other twice in a short period. In this case it’s twice in four weeks instead of twice in three weeks, but the Saints/Panthers games are slightly more crucial than the Broncos/Chiefs games were to those teams because these games are coming much later in the season.
I think the Panthers are ripe to be beaten tonight. The Saints have been virtually unstoppable at home this season, and even come out on top when they play poorly at home. I’m also basing this on my belief that with the importance of this game and the memory of their beating in Seattle still fresh in their minds, the Saints will play motivated and angry.
If a team like the Panthers, one that has been flirting with defeat for nearly a month, play against a Saints team in New Orleans that are angry and motivated and used to playing in important games like tonight’s, it means they are either going to have to put up an early lead of multiple scores or they are going to be playing from behind for most of the game. That usually leads to defeat for the team playing from behind, especially in the NFL in 2013 in New Orleans.
I haven’t done well picking the Saints, so I’m giving them one last chance. Hopefully I don’t regret it like I did picking them last Monday.
My Prediction: New Orleans (-3) 31, Carolina 24
Straight Up: 6-7