Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints Week 2 Predictions: Against the Spread, Total, and Props
Maybe the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t run away with the NFC South division this year after all. Three days after the Buccaneers needed a last-minute drive from Tom Brady and the offense to beat the Cowboys, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers followed up with Week 1 victories. No team had a bigger margin of victory in the opening week than the Saints, and their 35-point victory was their largest margin of victory in a season opener in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Panthers slogged their way to an ugly victory over the Jets. Will the optics of how the Saints and the Panthers won affect our pick on this week’s game?
Saints quarterback Jameis Winston silenced any doubters -- for now -- who were concerned about what the team’s offense would look like in the post-Drew Brees era. Winston became the third player since 1950 to throw five touchdown passes in their first game with a new team. However, his 148 passing yards were also the fewest ever in a five-touchdown performance. Still, the Saints will take a 92.5 total QBR from him every week, especially since he is lauded for being the first quarterback ever to throw for 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in a season two years ago.
Carolina also got a glimpse into the future as the Sam Darnold era got underway. Darnold exacted a little revenge on his former Jets team with a 279-yard and two touchdown performance (one rushing). However, it was the Panthers' defense that deserves the most credit for their 19-14 victory. They held New York to 252 total yards and put relentless pressure on rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, sacking him six times and hitting him 10 more.
Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the Saints averaged 4.31 yards of separation, which was their third-highest average on targets in a game since 2016. In addition, Jameis Winston’s fourth-quarter touchdown to Deonte Harris had 59 yards of air distance, which was the most on a New Orleans touchdown since 2017. The biggest takeaway from this is that defenses will have to honor the deep threat in New Orleans’ passing game a lot more than they ever had to against Drew Brees. With Brees under center, defenses could press New Orleans’ receivers, as the future Hall of Famer was not a threat to beat them deep with his arm late in his career. But, as we have seen with Winston ever since his time in the NFL began, he is not afraid to let it fly.
The scary thing about New Orleans’ balanced offense in Week 1 was that they are not anywhere close to full strength yet. Michael Thomas (ankle) is still on the reserve/PUP list, and fellow receiver Tre’Quan Smith (hamstring) is currently on injured reserve. Instead, Winston threw two touchdown passes to Juwan Johnson, who is still learning to play tight end after switching from the wide receiver position. In addition, Chris Hogan caught a touchdown pass just months after finishing a lacrosse season in the Premier Lacrosse League.
While these facts should make us more eager to pick the Saints, they serve as a reminder that this offense will go through its share of lumps. Green Bay in the Matt LaFleur era has never been known for its defense, but Matt Rhule’s Panthers teams are already known for being nasty and tenacious on that side of the ball. Game flow did not force Jameis Winston into being uncomfortable at all last week. Will he resort back to his old turnover-prone self when this game is tight in the second half?
Another critical factor for this matchup is that New Orleans will likely be without their newly paid top cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who is contemplating surgery after a thumb injury. Last week, Lattimore shut down one of the game’s best receivers, holding Davante Adams to just 56 yards. Unfortunately, this week, the Saints will not be able to rely on Lattimore’s prowess to take away half the field.
Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints Picks
Based on how each team looked in Week 1, the easy pick in this game is the Saints. In addition, New Orleans has won four straight games against Carolina and eight of their last nine. However, Carolina is 5-2 ATS in their previous five matchups. Look for Panthers head coach Matt Rhule to devise a defensive game plan that will frustrate Winston and one that will remind us that this Saints offense will be a work in progress before they get fully healthy.