New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers: 5 Bold Predictions

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints will be looking for their second straight win this Sunday at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as they host their visiting NFC South Division rivals the Carolina Panthers. Kickoff is set for 12:00 Central and will be broadcast regionally by CBS; the game can be viewed locally on WWL New Orleans Channel 4.

The (8-2) Saints have taken a commanding three game lead in the NFC South with six regular season games remaining. A victory in this contest over the second place Panthers β€” who have a (5-5) win-loss record β€” would all but ensure the Black and Gold of winning their third consecutive division championship.

Carolina has struggled mightily in recent weeks, and is rapidly getting close to being eliminated from playoff contention. With that in mind, here are Big Easy Magazine’s 5 BOLD Predictions for this weekend’s contest.

#5. The Saints Pass Rush Prolongs Panthers QB Kyle Allen’s Recent Struggles

After the Panthers began the season in an early 0-2 hole, they rallied behind back-up QB Kyle Allen (who has replaced long-time starter Cam Newton) to win four straight games, but since that time Allen has come crashing back down to earth and has gone 1-3 in his last four starts as Carolina has now fallen to (5-5) overall.

Part of the reason behind that sudden decline was defenses around the League gathering more film on him. That has led to inaccuracy, being prone to holding on to the ball too long in the pocket and taking sacks, and worst of all: a case ofΒ  “fumble-itis” from turning the ball over so much.

In this Sunday’s game, the Saints pass rush will do their part to prolong Allen’s notable struggles β€” as they sack him five times, cause a forced fumble, and render him completely ineffective in a woeful 11-for 29-passing performance with one TD and two interceptions.

#4. All-Pro WR Michael Thomas Has Another Record-Breaking Performance

We’re not even going to bother listing all of the records that Saints Superstar WR and All-Pro Michael Thomas has already broken this season so far; suffice it to say that he is in uncharted territory now in his fourth NFL season and stands on the precipice of breaking the NFL single-season record for receptions (143) set by Indianapolis Colts Hall of Fame WR Marvin HarrisonΒ in 2002.

Thomas currently has 94 receptions for 1,141 yards with another six games remaining to play, and has already strung together a handful of games in which he’s recorded double-digit catches and over 100 receiving yards. He has clearly emerged as one of the NFL’s “elite-caliber” receivers.

But this Sunday will be a stand-out performance above all others in the 53-year history of the Saints franchise. The former Ohio State University star catches a team record 17 receptions on a whopping 20 targets, for a Saints single-game receiving record 246 yards.

#3. Not to Be Outdone, Carolina All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey Has A Great Performance of His Own

If there’s been one bright spot or a silver lining for the Panthers this season, it’s been the play of their own All-Pro superstar RB and dual running/receiving threat Christian McCaffrey. If it weren’t for the other phenomenal seasons being put together this year thus far by Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson or Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson; would be a leading candidate for this season’s League MVP award.

Through the Panthers’ first 10 games, McCaffrey has carried the ball 199 times for 1,059 rushing yards and 11 running TDs. In addition, McCaffrey has caught 59 receptions for 517 receiving yards and three more TD catches. That makes a total of 258 touches for 1,676 yards from scrimmage β€” stats that would easily make him a “shoo-in” for the award in any other year but this one.

In Sunday’s contest, the speedster will have his own nice day on the stat-sheet; and while the Saints do manage to “limit” him somewhat (122 yards rushing on 15 carries and another 8 receptions for 72 receiving yards and 2 total TD’s (one running, one receiving); McCaffrey’s performance allows Carolina to remain competitive in this one (at least till the late 3rd quarter).

#2. Carolina Head Coach and Noted Risk-Taker “Riverboat” Ron Rivera Makes a Bad Gamble

The rumors are swirling in Carolina as the media has speculated that long-time head coach Ron Rivera is firmly on the coaching “hot-seatwith Panthers team ownership considering making wholesale changes to their organization and the team’s coaching staff. Rivera is one of the League’s longest-tenured head coaches and has coached the Panthers since 2011, guiding them to a Super Bowl back in 2015 (they famously lost Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos in Peyton Manning’s final NFL game four years ago).

But the criticism has been coming hot and heavy for Rivera in recent weeks, as some have suggested that the team has lost their sense of urgency this season given some of their horrific performances in a few of their most recent losses β€” including Carolina’s embarrassing 29-3 loss last week at home to Atlanta.

In Sunday’s game, Rivera will further compound his very own problems as the noted risk-taker tries to rally his team by allowing punter Michael Palardy to throw a pass on a fake punt; but who instead ends up throwing a “Pick-6” interception to Saints’ special teams ace J.T. Gray on a godawful throw.

#1. The Saints Have the Lead Heading into the 4th Quarter When…

Rivera takes his ill-fated gamble on that fake punt mentioned previously, which Gray takes all the way back for a 35-yard defensive TD that allows the Saints to add another score to what was already a 31-17 lead.

The Panthers up to this point of the game have kept the score close and within “striking distance” ofΒ  making a late comeback, but Gray’s pick-off of Parlardy essentially “ices” the game for New Orleans, as the Saints improve their overall win-loss record to (9-2) overall with an insurmountable four-game lead in the division to boot.

Meanwhile, the “hot seat” is now burning for Rivera β€” who has to fly back home to Charlotte, North Carolina and face an more disgruntled Panthers fan-base β€” as well as a media that will be now be asking asking even more questions about his future (or possible lack of one) with their franchise.

FINAL SCORE: Saints 38, Panthers 17

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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