Wild Card Game Preview: Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints

By Ha Kung Wong  Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars Chiefs

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime

Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints

 

Sunday, January 7, 2018 – 4:40 PM ET

Current Line – Saints by 6.5

NOTE: Ryan Whitfield and I also broke this game down in this weeks podcast, so give it a listen!

Panthers Offense

Passing Rank (DVOA) – 17th

  • Passing Yards Per Game – 192.3 (28th)

Rushing Rank (DVOA) – 11th

  • Rushing Yards Per Game – 131.4 (4th)

Points Per Game – 22.7 (12th)

As per usual, the Panthers offense goes as Cam Newton goes.  He hasn’t been terribly effective passing the ball, but he’s been competent, and he has had the most rushing yards of any QB this season (754).  And what we do know is that if Cam runs, the Panthers are successful.  The Saints might have manage to beat the Panthers both times this season, but in the first meeting, Cam ran just 16 yards and, as a result, he was sacked 4 times while throwing for 0 TDs and 3 INTs.  In the second meeting, Cam ran for 51 yards, and as a result, he was sacked only 2 times while throwing for 2 TDs and 0 INTs.  I’m not saying this is direct causation, but there certainly is a correlation.

Clearly, when there are multiple threats in the backfield, including Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey, the Saints defense needs to stay off the line and keep a closer eye on the gaps, allowing Cam more time to complete passes downfield to a now healthy Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess.  The Panthers also been successful behind the 3rd highest time of possession (32:17), so I’d expect them to significantly feed both Stewart and McCaffrey.

Panthers Defense

Pass Defense Rank (DVOA) – 10th

  • Passing Yards Allowed Per Game – 229.1 (18th)

Run Defense Rank (DVOA) – 6th

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game – 88.1 (3rd)

Points Allowed Per Game – 20.4 (Tied 10th)

We’ll turn to the Saints dynamic backfield duo in a moment, but fortunately for the Panthers, they have a top 10 run defense that only allows the 3rd least amount of rush yards per game to opposing RBs.  A lot will be rely on how the Panthers defensive line fare in the Wild Card game.  The first two times weren’t good as they were eviscerated by the Saints backfield to the tune of 149 and 148 rush yards, but they’ve been solid otherwise.  And although Carolina’s defensive line posted an NFC-best 50 sacks, you wouldn’t have know it watching the first two showdowns against the Saints as they sacked Brees only 3 total times, forcing 0 INTs and allowing Brees to complete 75% of his passes.  Luke Kuechly is having another amazing season, but he’ll need support if the Panthers want any hope of keeping competitive.

Saints Offense

Passing Rank (DVOA) – 6th

  • Passing Yards Per Game – 261.8 (5th)

Rushing Rank (DVOA) – 1st

  • Rushing Yards Per Game – 129.4 (5th)

Points Per Game – 28.0 (4th)

We all know that Drew Brees is good, regardless of what appears to be a down year.  With Michael Thomas stepping up this season with the 3rd most receptions (104) for the 6th most receiving yards (1,245) of any WR in the NFL, Brees has found a new favorite target.  And perhaps more importantly, the Saints ranked 5th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and first in the NFL in yards per carry (4.7), while Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram became the first RB duo in NFL history to each surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage.  The Saints are firing on all cylinders and love to play at home, so they’ll certainly be a force to be reckoned with.

Saints Defense

Pass Defense Rank (DVOA) – 5th

  • Passing Yards Allowed Per Game – 224.8 (15th)

Run Defense Rank (DVOA) – 23rd

  • Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game – 111.7 (16th)

Points Allowed Per Game – 20.4 (Tied 10th)

Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan, who’s having an amazing year with an unheard of 11 passes defended for a defensive lineman while adding the “usual” 13 sacks this season.  He’ll be needed to put pressure on Newton while making sure Stewart and McCaffrey don’t get too far out of the backfield.  Plus, rookie Marshon Lattimore looks to already be one of the best shutdown corners in the NFL, which could mean a long day for the likes of Devin Funchess.

Prediction:

The Panthers are solid in both offense and defense, but their fortunes are almost completely tied to Cam Newton.  The Saints are less one-dimensional being able to be be successful either on the back of Brees, or the duo of Kamara and Ingram. 

Saints Win, but take the Panthers with the Spread

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