Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game at the New Orleans Saints:
1. Panthers will try to establish the running game.
Lost in how poorly the Panthers offense played at Atlanta was the absence of Jonathan Stewart, who sat out with back tightness. Not that Stewart would have saved the Panthers, but he would have allowed Mike Shula try to get the run game going, control time of possession and keep the defense fresh. For the Panthers to pull the upset, they need long drives that keep Drew Brees on the sideline and keep the Superdome crowd at bay.
2. Saints will counter with big plays.
Because that’s what the Saints do. In the two regular-season meetings with Carolina, New Orleans had 14 so-called “chunk” plays, compared with nine for the Panthers. Expect the Panthers to do a better job tackling than they did in Week 13 (it would be hard to be worse). But ultimately New Orleans has too much speed and firepower to be held down for long.
3. Alvin Kamara will provide a couple of them.
The third-round pick from Tennessee has been a matchup problem for just about every team hehas faced, including the Panthers. Kamara is fast enough to get on the edge quickly and turn the corner, but also powerful enough to bull through tacklers. Kamara has averaged 8.8 yards on 19 touches in the two games vs. the Panthers, with a total of three touchdowns. He’ll score another on a big play Sunday.
4. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen will get back in sync.
Newton was off target with nearly all of his receivers against Atlanta, but that was especially so with Olsen. Newton targeted his tight end 10 times, resulting in only one reception (for 10 yards) and one of Newton’s three interceptions. The early run-game success (see above) will get the Saints linebackers to bite on play-action fakes, creating some space for Olsen in the secondary.
5. Newton will keep Panthers in it
Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess will have his hands full with rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who missed the two regular-season games with Carolina. If Funchess is neutralized, there are just not enough other weapons for the Panthers to match the Saints score for score. Except Newton, whose scrambles and zone-read plays will keep drives alive and allow the Panthers to stay close for awhile. But ultimately it won’t be enough. Saints 34, Panthers 24.
Panthers at Saints
Superdome, New Orleans
Sunday, 4:40 p.m.