Divisional matchups are front and center in week three of the NFL season including the NFC South clash between the (2-0) Carolina Panthers and (0-2) New Orleans Saints, who meet on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium (1pm ET on FOX).
Carolina opened up their season in Santa Clara where they took on the San Francisco 49ers in a completely one-sided road game. Thanks to a pair of touchdowns and three field goals, the Panthers scored points in each of the first three quarters and led 23-0 until there were about 15 seconds left in the third. Neither team scored in the fourth and the Panthers won by a final of 23-3.
QB Cam Newton had 171 yards and two touchdowns and the running game combined for over 100 yards in a combined effort of Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey.
Week two wasn’t as easy for the Panthers as they really needed to grind out their first home victory of the year as they took on the Bills in Charlotte. It was a field goal game, one in which Carolina once again got off to an early lead. The score was 6-0 at the half thanks to Graham Gano’s leg, but the Bills would get one back in the third before Gano put the Panthers out of reach with less than three minutes left in the game.
Newton threw for 228 yards and another 27 rushing yards but overall the run game was limited with McCaffrey. Stewart rushed for just 40 yards on 15 carries.
The biggest takeaway from both weeks is that Carolina’s defense is really good. To be fair it’s not that they’ve necessarily faced these barn-burning offenses in San Francisco and Buffalo but to hold a team to just one field goal in each of the past two weeks is impressive. The Panthers lead the NFL in that category, allowing opponents just an average of three points per game so far. The team is top-6 in every other category, including a current second-best passing yards against mark of just 136.5 per game. They have allowed the third fewest total yards, just 393 over two games, as well.
It’s noteworthy too that the Panthers have been so good defensively really without the aid of too many turnovers caused. Carolina has just one interception and one fumble recovery in the first two games, but they do have seven sacks. Pressuring the quarterback has no doubt been key to what the Panthers have been able to do. The team is just 30th in tackles, which is a low normal for them but the reason for that is as simple as the fact that the Panthers haven’t needed to make that many tackles, given they haven’t really had to play more than four-down football that often this year.
Against the Saints, the Panthers will be facing a much stronger offensive unit than they have so far and really, this will be the defense’s first true test. The group has looked great so far but Sunday will show if it was the strength of the defense or weakness of the early schedule that contributed more to the early success.
What We’ve Learned from the New Orleans Saints in the First Two Weeks
The Saints opened their schedule with the Minnesota Vikings on the road at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and actually scored the first points of the game thanks to a field goal on their first possession. The Saints would add three more field goals on the day, finally getting their first touchdown in garbage time with just over two minutes left in the game. The Saints definitely had opportunities to get in the endzone prior to that but they ended up settling for field goals every time. The final score was 29-19 in favor of the Vikings.
Week two saw the Saints facing the defending Super Bowl champions, New England Patriots, in a game where the Patriots had blood on their mind. New England was embarrassed at home the prior week and came into this game on fire. QB Tom Brady had a near perfect day under center, completing 30 of his 39 attempts for 447 yards and three touchdowns. Really, there wasn’t much the Saints could do to keep up, even with their own QB Drew Brees, throwing for 356 yards and two touchdowns of his own. The Saints also managed to get their running game going a bit but still the two backs couldn’t top the 100-yard mark for the second week in a row. The Patriots won by a 36-20 final score.
What we’ve learned is something that we kind of already knew: this Saints team isn’t going to be very good defensively. New Orleans hasn’t been a good defensive team in quite some time. In fact, in their Super Bowl winning year in 2010, the defense was the worst of any team ever to win the championship. It was the offense however which was among the best, making up for that deficit. But this year, as has been over the past few years, that offense hasn’t been nearly as good.
Brees of course will still throw for 4,000 yards on the year most likely but the passing game itself has struggled and will so even more now that Brandin Cooks, the top receiver from last year, is gone. Still though, this is an offense that should be able to test Carolina as they are ranked fifth in the NFL in total yards and second in passing yards per game. The Saints are by far the best offense the Panthers have faced yet.
The biggest worry for New Orleans however is getting the running game going, which has been mostly dormant for the past three seasons. The first two games so far showed that this could be a problem that continues into this year as well.
Our Preview’s New Orleans Saints vs Carolina Panthers Predictions & Picks
The Panthers lead the all-time series 24-20-0, having won seven of the last 10 meetings between the two teams dating back to 2012. They are also at home, so chalk another few points to them. That leads me to this preview’s betting predictions and picks:
- Carolina is favored by 5.5 points with the top rated US sports betting websites and I like the odds here that they’ll be able to cover that in a victory at home. Take Carolina -5.5pts @ odds of -110 with Bookmaker, 5Dimes or MyBookie.
- As for the total, 46.5pts seems almost insulting low given it’s not only been topped in seven of the last 10 meetings, but that it’s almost been topped by one team alone in four of those seven. That being said, Carolina’s defense hasn’t allowed their first touchdown yet and while I do think that streak ends this week. Take the final score to stay under 46.5 points @ -110 with Bookmaker, MyBookie or 5Dimes.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.