NFL Week 9 – Saints, Panthers Battle for First on TNF
John BensonNo comments
The beleaguered NFC South became a little more respectable last week with New Orleans’ impressive 44-23 win over the Green Bay Packers (where they covered as two-point favorites). Still, the division is an eye-sore, with all four teams under .500. That won’t be the case for long, though, as either New Orleans (3-4, 0-4 away) or Carolina (3-4-1, 2-2 home) will get back to even on Thursday Night Football (barring another tie; please, no more ties).
Though all the teams in the division have underperformed this season, someone has to come out on top and, as far as Saints head coach Sean Payton is concerned, it might as well be his team.
Payton said, “Certainly there’s all sorts of goals and there’s big picture, small picture and I think what we’ve tried to do is really focus on the smallest picture, and that’s our own team getting better.”
The good news for the Saints is the offense has definitely gotten better over the year, especially the run game. Currently, the team is ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing yards (133 per game) and second in yards per carry (5.1). Look for Payton to rely heavily on Mark Ingram against a Carolina defense that ranks 28th against the run.
Carolina is coming off a tough loss in which the team nearly upset the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. One of the big issues for the Panthers is settling for three points instead of seven in the red zone.
“It’s tough when you don’t score touchdowns and miss opportunities,” said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. “You have to make hay down in the red zone.”
Still, Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula is optimistic. He said, “If you said at the start of training camp or OTAs, ‘Hey, you have a chance in Week 9 to be playing for first place, would you take it?’ Yeah, I’d take it. That’s the mindset. You have to keep moving forward and forget about what’s happened.”
Considering the Saints’ improved running game and Carolina’s vulnerability on the ground, taking New Orleans and laying the points could be the right move. (Even though they have yet to win on the road this year, the Saints have won three games away from home in each of the last two seasons.)