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Panthers vs. Saints: Week 17 Preview

Panthers vs. Saints preview
Photo courtesy of WSPA.

Reality is starting to set in on the New Orleans Saints 2021 season. With two games left on the year, they can no longer lose a game if they want to keep their playoff aspirations alive. The 9-0 victory over Tampa Bay in Week 15 played a significant role in clinching a playoff berth. A loss to the Bucs followed up by another defeat to the Miami Dolphins would have sealed the Saints’ playoff fate.

However, that is not the case. A New Orleans victory over the Carolina Panthers will put them in a position to earn a playoff spot going into Week 18. A lot has changed since the Panthers’ 26-7 beatdown in Week 2.

Both franchises have gone in entirely different directions. Carolina had started off the season with a 3-0 record. At the time, many believed that the Panthers could make a run to the Super Bowl. They started to take a turn for the worse when running back Christian McCaffrey suffered a hamstring injury in a Thursday night game against the Houston Texans. Carolina would go on to win 24-9.

McCaffrey would never be the same from that game forward as he would be in and out of the lineup. He would eventually miss the remainder of the season. New Orleans has remained in contention for a playoff spot for most of the year. They have gone through numerous levels of adversity, such as covid outbreaks, controversial calls by officials, and the usual injuries that occur with players.

Saints Keys to the Game Versus the Carolina Panthers

The covid-19 outbreak is still going on within the Saints organization. However, the infected players from the initial breakout before the Dolphins game will return. Demario Davis, Kwon Alexander, Adam Trautman, and Malcolm Jenkins were activated off the covid-19/reserve list. Another plus for the Saints will be the return of wide receiver/kick returner Deonte Harris.

Harris was suspended for three games due to an off-the-field incident in July. For the Saints to be victorious against Carolina, their defense must have the same intensity that they have had for the past three weeks. It has been proven that if Sam Darnold is rattled in the pocket, he is liable to make a few costly mistakes.

Offensively, the o-line must not allow Carolina’s speedy defense led by Brian Burns and Shaq Thompson to become a factor in Sunday’s game. By far, 2021 has been a nightmare for the Saints’ offensive line. In Ryan Ramczyk and Terrone Armstead, two of their best players have battled knee injuries throughout the season.

Second-year guard Cesar Ruiz is still struggling to playing in a new position. According to reports, Armstead’s status is listed as questionable. The performance of the o-line will allow quarterback Taysom Hill to efficiently run an offense that has the potential to disrupt what Carolina wants to do on defense. If those things can happen, Hill must get the football into the hands of Alvin Kamara early and often.

Predicted Outcome

Due to the Saints having most of their players returning from covid-19 protocols and assistant coaches, they should have no issues knocking off the Carolina Panthers. Will they turn back the clock to the 2011 Saint offense? Probably not, but the goal right now is to win football games and remain alive for a postseason berth. Darnold is not an effective quarterback without his best weapon in McCaffrey on the field. New Orleans wins by ten.

Panthers 17

Saints     27

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