Game Predictions & Player Projections - CAR vs. NO

David Dorey, @DMDorey

Prediction: CAR 17, NO 34

(Line: NO by 4, O/U = 48)

UPDATE: Coby Fleener is out. Christian McCaffrey is questionable with his shoulder injury and was limited in practices but is expected to play same as he did last week barring any setback. Greg Olsen is also questionable but never practiced. He is a game time decision but it is not encouraging that he could not practice and only had some side work. I am removing him from the projections because of his risk.

This is the second meeting between these divisional rivals. The Saints won 34-13 in Carolina during Week 3 and both are tied at 8-3 atop the NFC South with Atlanta just one game back. The Panthers won their last four and are 5-1 on the road. The Saints lost in Los Angeles last week but are 4-1 in home games.

Carolina Panthers

1 @SF 23-3 10 MIA 45-21
2 BUF 9-3 11 BYE xxx
3 NO 13-34 12 @NYJ 35-27
4 @NE 33-30 13 @NO ---
5 @DET 27-24 14 MIN ---
6 PHI 23-28 15 GB ---
7 @CHI 3-17 16 TB ---
8 @TB 17-3 17 @ATL ---
9 ATL 20-17      
News | Statistics | Roster
CAR @ NO Rush Catch Pass
QB Cam Newton 50,1 190,1
RB C.J. Anderson 30 1-10
RB Christian McCaffrey 20 8-60,1
WR Devin Funchess 6-80
PK Graham Gano 1 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: This is likely a do-or-die game for winning the division because a loss here places the Panthers one game back and without the tiebreaker of head-to-head. So really two games back. The offense scored well in recent weeks but did not face tough opponents. The eight-point winning margin last week in New York was solely due to a fumble and a punt return for touchdowns in the fourth quarter. They trailed the Jets prior to those windfalls. After this week, the Vikings are the next up and the finale in Atlanta won't be easy either. The Panthers decision to dump Kelvin Benjamin may come back to bite them since Curtis Samuel was lost for the year and Greg Olsen is still not 100% healthy. It's hard to catch up on the scoreboard when all they have is little more than their quarterback scrambling.

QUARTERBACK: Cam Newton is maintaining some fantasy value each week but more from his rushing than passing. Three of his last six games contained no passing scores and he only had one with more than a single touchdown. He has rushed for three scores in that time and topped 50 yards in all but one. Back in Week 3, Newton only threw for 167 yards and no scores when the Saints came to town. He added one rushing score but only gained 16 yards on three carries.

RUNNING BACK: Jonathan Stewart comes off a touchdown game against the Jets thanks to Christian McCaffrey advancing the ball near the goal line. Stewart only ran for 26 yards on 15 carries and remains below to yards in all road venues since Week 4. Stewart only rushed for two scores all year. McCaffrey turned in two rushing touchdowns over the last three weeks and caught three touchdowns as well. McCaffrey has seen his workload decline in recent weeks but still either scores or rolls up yardage. With the injuries to receivers, it is surprising that McCaffrey only caught a season-low two passes last week but he gained 35 yards and added 62 more on seven carries.

McCaffrey caught nine passes for 101 yards in the first meeting with the Saints. Stewart ran for 57 yards on 12 carries.

WIDE RECEIVER: Kelvin Benjamin and Samuel Curtis are gone. All that is left is Russell Shepard who is only reliable for two catches per week and twice had none. And Devin Funchess who comes off his first big game with 108 yards on seven receptions. But he hurt his toe and it could be an issue. Funchess is on a three-game stretch of productive games and even scored twice in the win over the Dolphins in Week 10. I'll assume that Funchess is not limited and update if that changes. Without him, the passing game almost disappears.

TIGHT END: Greg Olsen finally returned in Week 12 after missing nine games because of his foot. He re-injured the foot after only one catch but did not break it. He will be visiting doctors and getting evaluated this week. I will hold him out of the projections for now and update as warranted.

MATCH TO THE DEFENSE: The Saints were without their top two corners last week and Jared Goff passed for 352 yards on them. Ken Crawley is likely still out with an abdomen injury while Marshon Lattimore nurses a sore ankle but hasn't been ruled out. If Funchess doesn't play, it won't matter. Lattimore will lock onto Funchess if he plays.

But Newton was not successful passing against the Saints earlier and that was at home with Benjamin and Curtis there. The Panthers success rides on the running backs and Newton running more than passing.

The Saints are weaker against the run but the Panthers will split up the workload. Stewart is a low-end fantasy play hoping for another touchdown while knowing he only had two all year. McCaffrey has a ton of upside here but he was under-used last week despite gaining 97 yards on just nine touches. Newton and McCaffrey are the safest starts and even they are no locks for more than moderate yardage.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points CAR 6 12 23 32 12 17
Preventing Fantasy Points NO 15 14 12 9 14 5

New Orleans Saints

1 @MIN 19-29 10 @BUF 47-10
2 NE 20-36 11 WAS 34-31 OT
3 @CAR 34-13 12 @LAR 20-26
4 @MIA 20-0 13 CAR ---
5 BYE xxx 14 @ATL ---
6 DET 52-38 15 NYJ ---
7 @GB 26-17 16 ATL ---
8 CHI 20-12 17 @TB ---
9 TB 30-10      
News | Statistics | Roster
NO vs CAR Rush Catch Pass
QB Drew Brees 250,2
QB Tom Savage 240,2
RB Mark Ingram 70,1 2-10
RB Alvin Kamara 50 6-80,1
WR Ted Ginn Jr. 3-40
WR Michael Thomas 8-100,1
TE Benjamin Watson 2-20
PK Wil Lutz 2 FG 4 XP

Pregame Notes: Facing the Rams without both starting cornerbacks proved a bad plan. That ended an eight-game winning streak. But winning here should pave the way to taking the division so long as they can win at least one of the two remaining meetings with the Falcons who are also getting hot. The NFC South has become the most competitive division in the NFC and the top three teams combine for more wins than any division regardless of conference. There are only two more road games left to play and Week 17 is against the Buccaneers. These next two weeks - the Panthers and then at the Falcons - will determine if the Saints walk away with the division or if it will require the final week to crown a division champ.

QUARTERBACK: Drew Brees remains one of the top quarterbacks but lacks the yardage of previous seasons. He is on pace for 4,400 yards which is great for most quarterbacks but would be his lowest totals since 2009. Brees passed for 220 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting. He's tended to have lower output in home games since the rushing effort is usually more than enough to get the win.

RUNNING BACK: Mark Ingram flopped last week with only 31 yards on 11 carries and no scores. But he already topped 100 yards in four of the previous seven games and scored seven times over that span. Ingram was limited to only 56 yards on 14 runs in the first meeting with the Panthers.

Alvin Kamara has been largely unstoppable for the last six weeks. Starting in Week 8, the rookie accounts for seven touchdowns as well and consistently produces over 100 total yards. He is on a five-game scoring streak and just turned in his first 100-yard game as a receiver. Kamara only ran twice against the Panthers but gained 37 yards and scored a touchdown. The Panthers are going to hate having him in the division.

WIDE RECEIVER: Michael Thomas continues to be productive with around 70 yards in every game and with a high of 117 yards. But he has not scored since back in Week 4. He gained 87 yards on seven catches with one score in the first meeting with the Panthers. Ted Ginn was limited to only 44 yards on two receptions that week but scored then and has been good for around 60 yards or more in most games since. These wideouts don't produce like they did in years past thanks to the backfield success but can turn it up when needed.

TIGHT END: No fantasy value. Coby Fleener may still be in the concussion protocol anyway.

MATCH TO THE DEFENSE: The Saints already dispatched the Panthers in their stadium. And Cam Newton had more weapons back then as well. The Panthers have been very good against the run and no back has gained more than 86 yards on them. But this is the No. 1 set of running backs in the league. At home. And much better than when they initially played two months ago. Start both Ingram and Kamara every week. Ingram won't likely have a big yardage game but he can still score. Kamara is playing lights out now and will backfill with receptions unlike when they first faced off.

Michael Thomas already had a big game there and should be no worse at home this week. The rest of the receivers may not see as much action because of the focus on the backfield. But like any week - Brees, Ingram, Kamara and Thomas are all must-starts.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points NO 14 1 14 26 3 10
Preventing Fantasy Points CAR 9 4 20 5 5 18

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