Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bold, Bold Sunday Prediction

I'll take the Panthers. Not just against the 13-point spread, but to win! (At this point feel free to bookmark this page, so you can come back and make fun in a few hours if it doesn't turn out my way.) Or at least make it a close game. Before you laugh, hear me out: first of all, Carolina has the top passing defense in the NFL. Brees will probably have a little more trouble than normal moving the football.

More importantly, the Saints don't stop the run very well. We saw that against the Falcons (Michael Turner picked up 150 on 20 carries) and the Dolphins (137 yards and four rushing touchdowns as a team). In fact, the Saints are 20th in the league on yards per carry given up, at 4.4 per attempt, despite surrendering just 33 yards on 20 carries against Detroit in the opener. Jumping all over teams early has allowed them to hide that weakness; only two teams in the league have faced fewer running attempts than the Saints, and as a result they are a respectable tenth in the league in rushing yards allowed. But don't be fooled; a good rushing team can move the football on New Orleans.

In Carolina's defeat of Arizona last week, Panthers coach John Fox seemed to have finally learned that for his team to play with the big boys, Jake Delhomme needs to keep his attempts below 20, and DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart need in excess of 30 carries between them. (More here.) If he follows that game plan today, even if the Saints jump up by a touchdown or two, I like the Panthers. But if Fox reacts to an early deficit by passing on first and second down, the game's not only over, but will be a blowout. The Saints are the league's best ballhawks, and no one finds the opposition with greater skill and regularity than Delhomme.

Update: After passing five times in the first half, Delhomme has now passed 16 times in the second, with a little more than two minutes left. Not coincidentally, the Panthers finished the first half up by 11, and are now losing by three points. Carolina's most recent drive started with them down by three and almost five minutes left. Inexplicably, Fox thought it was time to chuck the strategy that had kept them in the game against arguably the best team in the league; he called five passes in seven plays, the final three being failed passes. The Panthers have played great, but coaches who make dumb decisions deserve to lose.

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