Wild Card Round Tale Of The Tape: Carolina Panthers At New Orleans Saints
- QuarterbackThe Panthers rebounded from their awful 2016 season to getting back to the postseason this year, and they clearly have a first-rate leader in Cam Newton. When it come to rallying his team or running with the ball, Newton gets the job done. When it comes to passing accuracy, Newton can be inconsistent as he makes difficult throws look easy and easy throws look hard.The Saints will eventually have to replace Drew Brees, but they don’t have to do it in this year’s playoffs or perhaps in the upcoming draft. Brees is one of the top leaders in the game, and while he has lost a couple of miles per hour off of his fastball, he is accurate and reads defenses superbly. Brees completed 72.0 percent of his passes with a 23-8 TD-interception ratio.
- OffenseThe Panthers have no problems when it comes to moving the ball on the ground, because Newton, Jonathan Stewart and rookie Christian McCaffrey can get the job done. McCaffrey is also a superb receiver, and he could be a huge factor in the postseason. Devin Funchess is an adequate wideout while tight end Greg Olsen is one of the best in the business.The Saints have a dynamic offense that improved dramatically in 2017 even though Brees is an older quarterback. Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara have formed a sensational duo, combining for 1,856 yards and 20 touchdowns. Michael Thomas is one of the game’s best receivers, while Ted Ginn is a solid complementary receiver who can break a game open with his speed.
- DefenseThe Panthers have a powerful and veteran defense that ranks seventh in yards allowed and is going to have to be at its best if they are going to come into the Superdome and beat the Saints. It starts with linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, who are both superb tacklers and hard hitters. Pass rushers Mario Addison and Julius Peppers each had 11.0 sacks, while Kawann Short is a fine defensive tackle.The Saints improved dramatically on defense this year as they were one of the two worst defensive teams in 2015 and 2016, and now they can create problems for opposing offenses. Defensive end Cameron Jordan must be accounted for on every play and he had 13.0 sacks this year, while free safety Vonn Bell led the team with 83 tackles and added 4.5 sacks.
- Special TeamsThe Panthers have long had one of the most athletic rosters in the NFL from top to bottom, but their special teams play has long been disappointing. That’s not the case this year, as McCaffrey and Damiere Byrd are threats in the return game. PK Graham Gano made 29-of-30 FG attempts this season.The Saints are one of the more dangerous teams in the return game with the explosive Ginn and Tommylee Lewis in the return game. Wil Lutz made 32-of-36 FG attempts this season, including 4-of-5 from 50-yards and beyond. Thomas Morstead is a sensational punter who averaged 47.0 yards per punt.
The Saints should be able to do quite a bit of damage because Brees is a sensational leader who can find the weak spot in opposing defenses. Newton’s inconsistency is a huge issue in this game.