NFL: New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers

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Nobody would have thought the New Orleans Saints would be 0-1. They lost at home to the Washington Redskins, who had a rookie quarterback behind center. It was the first home loss for New Orleans since week 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010. 

Carolina was favored last week at Tampa Bay. However, the Buccaneers spoiled Cam Newton's first start as a two-year pro. The Panthers never were in sync and could not get their running game on track. They were one of the best rushing attacks in 2011, and a lot of people figured they would be one of the better rushing offenses in 2012. 

Tampa Bay thought otherwise, and held them to only10 rushing yards.

This is a big game for both of these NFC South squads. Neither team wants to start 0-2. Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, only 22 out of 184 (12%) teams to start 0-2 made the playoffs. 

And, only 3 of the 184 teams won the Super Bowl (1.6%).

This game will be crucial and here are three things to pay attention to heading into Sunday's game at Carolina. 

RUSHING GAME

Whoever rushes for more yards will have a good chance to get their first win of the season. New Orleans (7th) and Carolina (3rd) both finished in the top ten last year in rushing yards/game. It contributed significantly for both teams to open up their passing attack.

New Orleans only rushed for 32 yards in their 40-32 loss to the Redskins last week. They only attempted 10 carries. This is not going to get it done for the Saints. They don't want Brees attempting 52 passes, like he did last week. Bree's only completed 46% of his passes, his lowest total since 2006. The lack of a rushing attack for the Saints offense was a huge part in him completing less than half of his attempts.

The Saints need to get Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Darren Sproles involved against the Panthers. Tampa Bay had success last week against the Panthers' defense. The Buccaneers rushed for 130 yards. 

Sproles, Thomas, and Ingram combined for 1,639 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns last season. The Saints had one of the most well-balanced offenses last year, and it played a big part in Brees' picking defenses apart.

Carolina struggled rushing the ball in week one, which was a surprise. DeAngelo Williams had six carries for -1 yards. The Panthers need him to get on track this Sunday. He is one of the most illusive backs in the NFL, he has averaged at least four yards/carry every year since being drafted in 2006. 

Cam Newton is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL. Not only is he a solid passer, he is arguably the best rushing quarterback in the game. He had 14 rushing touchdowns in 2011, setting an NFL record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a season. He finished his rookie campaign with 706 rushing yards averaging 5.6 yards/carry. 

The Panthers are hopeful that Jonathan Stewart will be on the field on Sunday. He is nursing an ankle injury, but all signs point that he will be good to go this week. In 2011 Stewart rushed for over 700 yards and had a career high in yards/carry (5.4). 

He is one of the better receiving running backs too. He had 47 receptions for 413 yards. The Panthers are significantly a better team with Stewart on the field. 

DREW BREES & CAM NEWTON

The winner of this game will come down to the two quarterbacks. Both threw for over 300 yards last week, but had to work too hard to get there. 

Drew Brees was 24-52 for 339 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Brees set an NFL record in passing yards (5,476) and completion % (71.2) in 2011. 

Expect Brees to get closer to his 2011 numbers in week two. It was his first game without his Head Coach Sean Payton dialing up the plays. It is going to take a few weeks before the team gets comfortable without their coach. If any quarterback can succeed without his coach, Drew Brees is the guy.

He is a top-five quarterback in this league, and expect Brees to bounce back strong in week two to avoid an 0-2 start. 

Cam Newton is coming off one of the best rookie seasons any rookie quarterback has ever had. If it wasn't for Dan Marino's rookie campaign, it would easily be the best ever. (You know what after strongly thinking about their two rookie seasons, screw it, Cam Newton is coming off the best rookie season in NFL history.) Just look at all the rookie records he set for quarterbacks.

Rookie Records 

Most passing yards in a game: 432

Most passing yards in a season: 4,051

First rookie quarterback with 10 rushing and 10 passing touchdowns in a season: 14 (rushing) 21(passing)

First rookie to post back-to-back 400 yard games

Most total touchdowns: 35

Most rushing yards: 706

Most rushing touchdowns: 14

Newton set eight individual records in his rookie campaign, but he will tell you he was not satisfied because the Panthers did not make the playoffs. 

Newton needs get outside of the pocket to be at his best. It will be important for Superman to run a lot of play action and bootlegs to have success against a New Orleans' defense that struggled last week against a rookie quarterback. RG III had his way with the Saints defense, and New Orleans is hoping another Heisman quarterback doesn't do the same. 

Expect Newton to bounce back this week and look to get outside of the pocket. Newton will have more than five carries for four yards on Sunday. The Buccaneers did a good job of keeping him in the pocket. The Panthers will learn from watching tape from last weeks game and figure out how to get Newton and the rushing attack on track. 

Also, Steve Smith is nursing a knee injury, but all signs point to him being ready to go for Sunday. This is huge news for Carolina because Smith is still a top-ten wideout in the NFL.

DEFENSE

Both defenses were polar opposites last week. New Orleans looked lost and Carolina kept them in the game.

The Saints defense was embarrassed by a rookie quarterback. They allowed 459 total yards and did not force one turnover. They are missing their quarterback on defense: Jonathan Vilma.  The Saints received great news before their season opener, Vilma won his appeal, and his year-long suspension was overturned. 

Unfortunately, he is banged up, and will be out for the first six weeks as the team put him on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. 

New Orleans defense needs to step up this week as they face another dual threat quarterback. 

Expect Curtis Lofton to step up this week and have a big game against Carolina. Lofton was signed by New Orleans in the off-season after having four great years in Atlanta. He has recorded at least 118 tackles every season since 2009. 

Roman Harper and Michael Jenkins will play a big role this week. They are one of the better tandems at safety in the NFL. 

The Saints are missing Tracy Porter, who played a huge part in the franchise winning their only Super Bowl in 2010. He had a huge pick-six to seal the deal in that game, just as he did last week against Pittsburgh for the Denver Broncos.

New Orleans is hoping Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson step up this year as the two started cornerbacks in 2012. Washington's receivers had their way last week, and it will be crucial for them to improve this week. 

Carolina was one of the worst defenses in 2011. They finished with the 28th worst defense (377.6 yards/game). They finished 27th in the NFL in points/allowed (26.8).

Last week their defense looked sharp. They held the Buccaneers to 258 total yards and kept them in the game. They only allowed Tampa Bay to score three second half points, but the offense could not capitalize down the stretch.

The Panthers are thrilled to have their two best linebackers back in 2012. Jon Beason suffered a season ending injury in week one against the Arizona Cardinals last season. He looked outstanding in his first game back, leading the Panthers with 10 tackles. He has recorded at least 121 tackles in every season since he was drafted by Carolina in 2007. (Except last season when he tore his Achilles.)

Thomas Davis finally looks like he is healthy. He is coming off major knee surgery after tearing his ACL in his right knee for the third time in two years. The Panthers need Davis on the field to play alongside Beason, and their first round pick out of Boston College, Luke Kuechly. 

PREDICTION

This is a very intriguing game. The Saints' defense looked horrible last week. Carolina's offense looked pathetic last week. Whoever steps up this week will have a good chance to get their first win of the season.

New Orleans is a very experienced team and I think they will bounce back strong this week. I expect Brees to get back to his old form and have a HUGE game on Sunday. 

I think Newton will step up this week, but it won't be enough for the Panthers. 

The Saints defense will force a couple of turnovers on that will prove to be the difference.

 

NEW ORLEANS 38 CAROLINA 27

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