Carolina Panthers’ Hump Day Prognostication (New Orleans Saints edition)

 

Good morning Panther faithful and happy hump day! Today not only marks the last hump day of 2009, but also the last Hump Day Prognostication for the 2009 season. It's been a pleasure putting it out here for everyone each week and look to see it again week one of 2010.

This Sunday's game pits the late surging Carolina Panthers (7-8) against the reeling New Orleans Saints (13-2). The Panthers are coming off a two game win streak convincingly defeating two of the NFC's big guns in the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants respectively. Conversely, the Saints have dropped back to back games against the Dallas Cowboys and lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This contest bodes to be strangely intriguing. Typically a game like this would be little more than a throw-away to end the season, but with the Panthers playing to secure the pride of reaching .500, and despite locking up home field advantage the Saints will be looking to get a win and some momentum heading into the playoffs. So let's examine the matchup:

After the jump...

New Orleans run offense vs. Carolina run defense

When I last prognosticated about the Saints they were boasting the 4th best rushing attack in the NFL averaging 153.3 ypg, as the season progressed the Saints dropped one spot to having the 5th ranked rushing attack averaging 135.5 yards now. At the same time the Panthers 29th ranked run defense is now improved to 25th in the NFL. Regardless, the Saints will probably try and run the football a lot on Sunday to avoid testing the Panther's pass defense.

Even though the Panthers have been stellar the last two weeks in run defense I see the Saints getting the upper hand on the ground.

Edge: New Orleans

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KEY MATCHUP: New Orleans pass offense vs. Carolina pass defense

As it has been so many times in 2009 the key to the Panthers' game will be their amazing pass defense. As a collective Carolina have arguably seen the best QBs in the NFL as a whole: McNabb, Ryan (x2), Brees, Romo, Brady, Warner, Favre, Eli Manning... the list goes on. Despite having their resilience tested by this group the Panthers remained resolute against the pass and now sit 4th in the NFL in pass defense.

Meanwhile, what more can be said about the New Orleans passing attack that isn't already known? Brees is one of the best QBs in the NFL and they boast one of the best stables of WRs in the league. Ultimately I see the Panthers getting the upper hand in this matchup. They have been tested before and come through with flying colors.

Edge: Carolina

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Carolina run offense vs. New Orleans run defense

Jonathan Stewart is a man possessed right now, and I just don't see anyone being able to stop him at this point. With teams now needing to respect Carolina's passing attack, stacking the box is no longer the modus operandi for opposing defenses. The Saints will have to account for both and when it typically takes 3-4 guys to bring Stewart does it's a tough prospect.

Carolina are 4th in the NFL in rushing, New Orleans are 18th in run defense... it's elementary.

Edge: Carolina

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Carolina pass offense vs. New Orleans pass defense

Matt Moore has the Carolina pass offense clicking right now and I was fully committed to giving the Panthers this category... but there's an asterisk, one with a cast on his arm. The Panthers' passing offense without Steve Smith is a much weakened beast. The Panthers only scored 10 points against the Giants without Smitty on the field, and 31 when he did play. Though Moore is adept at finding Muhsin Muhammad and the tight ends, it will be incumbent upon Dwayne Jarrett, Kenneth Moore and Charly Martin to provide some help over at the other side. All three have shown shining moments, but also lackluster ones, so it becomes very difficult to know who, if anyone will step up.

On the plus side for Panther fans we get to see Moore deal with another adverse situation, further aiding his development into the potential QB of the future in Carolina.

Edge: New Orleans

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Special Teams

Same old story, same old song and dance.

Edge: New Orleans

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Coaching

Carolina's coaching has been much better the last few weeks as the staff utilizes player's strengths and puts them in a position to succeed. If Sean Payton decides to rest some of his players it also sways the argument, but ultimately one team is 7-8 and one is 13-2.

Edge: New Orleans

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Final Summary

The future is bright for the Carolina Panthers as John Fox and co. continue to evaluate their talent as they reload for a 2010 campaign. These are not the same Carolina Panthers the Saints saw in week 9 and with a new starting QB, RB and different offensive line I don't think the Saints will have a lot of tape on some of our newer guys. Carolina will pound the rock and throw little more than to keep the defense honest. As a starter no team has been able to slow, let alone stop Jonathan Stewart and I think the trend continues in Charlotte as the both teams go into a 3 game win streak into the offseason, and a 3 game losing streak heading into the playoffs respectively.

Carolina Panthers 28 - New Orleans Saints 17

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