The Carolina Panthers got a win in their opener, as former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold got revenge against his old team. The New Orleans Saints also won in Week One with a surprising 35-3 beat down of the Green Bay Packers.
Now the two NFC South rivals clash to see which team will move to 2-0 on the year and give its playoff hopes an early boost.
New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers
Sunday, September 19, 2021 – 01:00 PM EDT at Bank of America Stadium
The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints were both expected to be down this season. The Panthers stripped down their roster last year and have jettisoned almost all their veteran players to go with a youth movement, while the Saints began their transition over the offseason with the retirement of Drew Brees.
Both teams showed that the division isn’t just conceded to the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucs in Week One, however, as they posted impressive opening week wins.
The Panthers had a successful debut of former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, who beat his old team. The Saints had a surprising 35-3 beat down of a Green Bay Packers team that was expected to be a contender.
Now both rivals clash to see which team will post a 2-0 start to the year and give its playoff hopes an early boost.
Sickbay and Injury Ward
Despite having their game preparations turned upside down due to a hurricane-related relocation, the Saints dominated the Packers, holding star quarterback Aaron Rodgers to just three points and intercepting him twice. While an upset win wasn’t out of the question, virtually no one saw a 32-point blowout coming.
The Saints have plenty of adversity to deal with in Week Two, however.
Reportedly, five Saints assistants have tested positive for COVID, as did a player currently on injured reserve. As of early game week, no players on the active roster had tested positive, but if the outbreak spreads, the team could be short-handed in Charlotte and, worst case, could be the first test case for the NFL’s strict policy regarding forfeiting games.
New Orleans also had some old-school adversity following the Week One win—injuries to key contributors. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore, a three-time Pro Bowl player, reportedly had surgery on Tuesday to repair a chipped bone in his thumb. He played through the injury on Sunday, returning to the field with a makeshift cast on his arm, but he’ll now likely miss some time recovering from the procedure. He’s officially listed as “week-to-week.”
Defensive end Marcus Davenport suffered a pec strain in the game. While the MRI showed that it wasn’t torn, he’s still expected to “miss some time.”
On offense, center Erik McCoy left the game with a calf strain. The team was working out free agent centers early in the week, so it appears he’s likely to miss Sunday’s game in Charlotte.
Good Against the Jets
The Panthers had an impressive start to the season, but any success in Week One has to be tempered with the qualifier, “Yeah, but it was the Jets.”
The Jets were a two-win team last year and were playing their first game under a rookie coach and rookie quarterback. Still, that was the team on the Panthers’ schedule, and Carolina jumped on them early.
Offensive coordinator Joe Brady drew up a safe game plan for Darnold, who struggled when his protection failed in New York. He threw safe passes on Sunday, getting the ball away quickly to avoid the rush. In the first half, he was 17-of-22 for 234 yards and a touchdown. Eleven of his first-half passes were to tight ends or star running back Christian McCaffrey, and he was 11-of-11 on the short, safe dump-offs.
The Jets adjusted at halftime and he was consistently pressured and managed just 45 yards in the second half.
McCaffrey showed he was back to full strength, gaining 80 yards on the ground and 80 on receptions for the fifth time in his career. The defense also showed up, hitting rookie Zach Wilson 10 times and pressuring him 14 in 43 dropbacks. The D finished with six sacks.
It’s tough to know which half to trust for the Panthers—the 16-0 win in the first or the 14-3 loss in the second. The Saints, meanwhile, will likely not be at the same level they were against Green Bay. Still, even with the injuries and COVID scare. For my NFL pick, New Orleans looks like the surer bet.
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