Five fearless predictions for Thursday’s Carolina Panthers game against the New Orleans Saints:
1. Drew Brees won’t throw for 400.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback went well over 400 yards (465) in the Saints’ 41-38 victory vs. Carolina last month. The Panthers’ defense has played better of late, due mostly to the re-emergence of its pass rush. The front four need to try to get Brees off his spot in the pocket if the Panthers are to have any chance at winning. Brees will pass for 350 on Thursday, but he’ll also lose a fumble on a strip-sack.
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2. There will be Purdue-on-Purdue crime.
Brees thought Panthers defensive tackle and fellow Purdue alum Kawann Short punched him in the mouth in the first meeting. Short was penalized and fined for the hit, but said it was more a product of Brees’ small stature and was unintentional. Short isn’t anywhere near his 2015 production, but he has two sacks and five pressures in the past three games. Short will get a sack on Brees – it will be legal and force a fumble in Saints territory.
3. The Saints will get a hat trick on Cam Newton.
New Orleans sacked Newton twice in its win last month, but hit him 13 times. That’s been the story of Newton’s season, with the poor pass protection leading to bad decisions in the pockets. The Saints are coming off a six-sack game last week vs. Denver – their highest total in two years. They won’t get six against Newton, but they’ll reach three sacks, including two by defensive end Cameron Jordan.
4. Saints will break a long punt return.
Michael Palardy was working through a honey-do list in Atlanta when the Panthers called looking for a replacement for punter Andy Lee. Palardy, a left-footer, will be asked to hit directional punts in his regular-season debut. It’s unclear who’ll he be punting to. Tommylee Lewis, who had a 59-yard return vs. Lee in October, was inactive the past two games. It could be Brandin Cooks, who has ridiculous speed.
5. Points will come in bunches.
Both defenses have improved since the first matchup. Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins did not play vs. the Panthers last month, but are back in the lineup. But New Orleans still has the league’s worst passing defense, allowing 292.7 yards a game. And while the Panthers’ secondary is improved, they’ll have trouble with Brees. In a game featuring lots of big plays, Ted Ginn will provide the biggest. Panthers 34, Saints 31.
Saints at Panthers
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Thursday, 8:25 p.m.
NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Heather Cox)