By Andrew Kahn
The Saints and Panthers are both 3-4 (Carolina has 1 tie as well) and battling for the NFC South crown. New Orleans has an extremely quick turnaround after playing on Sunday night. The Panthers haven’t won since Oct. 5, but New Orleans has lost its last two meetings in Carolina, part of a string of eight straight regular season road losses. In the preseason this might have been tabbed as a potential NFC Championship preview. Instead, there’s a good chance only one will make the playoffs. Catch the action on NFL Network at 8:25 ET.
When New Orleans has the ball:
The Saints average the second most yards per game in the NFL. In a 44-23 win over Green Bay on Sunday night, Drew Brees became the all-time leader in completion percentage. But it’s New Orleans’ run game that has been eye-opening. The Saints have found a nice balance with Mark Ingram. The fourth-year bruiser is averaging 5.7 yards per carry; the Saints as a team are second in the league in that category.
Carolina’s defense, one of the best in the league last year, has dipped significantly this season. After two wins to start the season, the Panthers allowed 37, 38, 24, 37, and 38 points before shutting down Seattle for three quarters in a 13-9 loss on Sunday. They are the worst team in the NFL against the run, which doesn’t bode well for Thursday.
When Carolina has the ball:
On the other side of the ball, Carolina has been struggling to find consistency. Cam Newton hasn’t had a 300-yard passing game and sports a pedestrian quarterback rating (86.6) but doesn’t deserve all the blame. The Panthers rank near the bottom of the league in rush yards per attempt. Running back DeAngelo Williams may help in that category-he’s missed six games this season, including the last four, but should return on Thursday. One pleasant surprise has been rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. The first-round pick out of Florida State leads all rookies in receiving touchdowns (5) and is second in yards (573). The 6’5″, 240-pounder has used his size to make some great grabs this season, perhaps none better than one he made last week for a 51-yard gain. Benjamin raced downfield and outjumped two of the best secondary defenders in football-Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas-to make a spectacular catch. Hauling in a pass against one of those guys is tough. Benjamin wrestled the ball away from both of them on the same play.
New Orleans is giving up a ton of yards, most of them through the air, so there should be opportunities for Newton to connect with Benjamin and his other receivers. Allowing only 23 points against Green Bay’s prolific offense-and just seven in the second half-as New Orleans did on Sunday night, might look like a strong performance, but don’t read too much into it. The Packers moved the ball pretty well but committed turnovers and penalties at key times.
Prediction: Carolina 24, New Orleans 23
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.
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