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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
September 7, 2005
Season Ticket
Thur 9 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 4 PM Sun 8:30 PM
Sun 1 PM SEA at JAC NYJ at KC STL at SF Mon 9 PM
DEN at MIA CIN at CLE   GB at DET Times ET

Prediction: New Orleans 20, Carolina 23

Obviously this game has taken a different tact now that Hurricane Katrina has devastated New Orleans and the Superdome. What effect that event will have on this game, and subsequent games by the Saints, is just something that will have to be seen since there is no real precedent for this. Given that, there is no "connect the dots" way to analyze the matchup since there will be an obvious emotional component here. These teams traded wins last year and oddly enough, both took victories as visitors.

New Orleans Saints (0-0)
1 Sep 11 @CAR 10 Open Bye
2 Sep 18 NYG 11 Nov 20 @NE
3 Sep 25 @MIN 12 Nov 27 @NYJ
4 Oct 2 BUF 13 Dec 4 TBB
5 Oct 9 @GBP 14 Dec 12 @ATL
6 Oct 16 ATL 15 Dec 18 CAR
7 Oct 23 @STL 16 Dec 24 DET
8 Oct 30 MIA 17 Jan 1 @TBB
9 Nov 6 CHI . MON SAT
NOR Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Aaron Brooks 0 0 220,1
RB Deuce McAllister 70,1 30 0
TE Ernie Conwell 0 20 0
WR Joe Horn 0 50 0
WR Donte Stallworth 0 60,1 0
WR Devery Henderson 0 30 0
PK John Carney 2 FG 2 XP -
Pregame Notes: For whatever it is worth, the Saints return the same players and scheme this season so they are not caught in the middle of a transition while dealing with the effects of the hurricane. The Saints were looking at a more promising season with a improved offensive line and as always, an attempt to improve the defense.

Quarterback: Aaron Brooks needs to come up big this season and that doesn't so much mean numbers wise, but reducing errors, turnovers and just displaying weekly consistency. The rushing game should be better which will be an assistance but inevitably, Brooks needs to step up his own play.

Brooks has been consistent when facing the Panthers, throwing for 216 and 251 yards last year with one and three touchdowns respectively. Of course the lower numbers came on the road.

Running Backs: The Saints expect Deuce McAllister to return to the 2003 level of production that saw him gain 1641 yards and have made key offensive line changes to accomplish just that. McAllister only managed 1074 yards in 14 games in 2004 and his 4.0 yards per carry was the lowest of his career.

The good news here is that McAllister ran for 140 yards and one score in Carolina last season though that was in week 17 when all bets are off. He was a nonfactor in week 13 with only 22 yards on seven carries.

Wide Receivers: This traditional passing scheme uses Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth again this year and while Horn is 33 years old, he is not slowing down. The 1399 yards and 11 touchdowns of 2004 was a career best for him. Stallworth finally managed to hang around the whole season without missing significant time with balky hamstrings. His 767 yards and five scores should prove to be the least he is capable of in his fourth season.

While Stallworth only managed 31 and 44 yards in two meetings last year (with one score). Horn was at his best with games of 75 and 160 yards with three touchdowns.

Tight Ends: The Saints lost Boo Williams to an ACL injury this summer which leaves Ernie Conwell as the starter. The Saints were unsuccessful throwing to Williams in 2004 and Conwell is primarily a blocker. Not much fantasy value likely here.

Match Against the Defense: Again, the performance of this offense - and likely to some extent the Panther defense - will be affected by the hurricane tragedy so matching it up can be hard to rely on. The Panthers defense was decimated by injury last year and by no means will resemble this year's crew (unless the unthinkable happens yet again). I like McAllister to have a moderate game here with the better blocking but the front line of Carolina should cap him at around 70 yards regardless. Brooks will be forced to throw and in New Orleans that means really one two players - Horn who has always been successful at least moderately and Stallworth who has yet to have a big game in Carolina.

The Panthers acquired CB Ken Lucas as a hoped for "shut-down" corner and his matchup against Horn is no mere coincidence.

Pregame Notes: The Panthers came off a NFC Championship in 2003 and promptly incurred injury after injury last year until the final squad was much different - and far less effective - than the week one starters. While Muhsin Muhammad became a star in the offense after years of merely possession catches, he left for the Bears and Steve Smith returns. Coupled with second-year player Keary Colbert, the Panthers passing attack should be fine even without Muhammad.

Quarterback: Jake Delhomme may have spent seven years in the NFL, but the previous six were light in clues that he could be so productive passing. Jake ended with 3886 yards and 29 passing scores in 2004, an increase forced by the injuries to both Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster.

Delhomme has displayed the ability to light it up when needed but with a healthy defense again and the specter of a rushing game, he won't likely need to be so pass happy again this year.

Running Backs: This picture was clear about a month ago. Stephen Davis was injured and coming back from microfracture surgery was all but written off. The always fragile DeShaun Foster was the starter (only six starts in three NFL seasons) and the rookie Eric Shelton was drafted to come in and save the day once Foster went down (call it week four - law of averages).

Now Shelton is on injured reserve with a broken foot, Davis is practicing again

Carolina Panthers (0-0)
1 Sep 11 NOR 10 Nov 13 NYJ
2 Sep 18 NE 11 Nov 20 @CHI
3 Sep 25 @MIA 12 Nov 27 @BUF
4 Oct 3 GBP 13 Dec 4 ATL
5 Oct 9 @ARI 14 Dec 11 TBB
6 Oct 16 @DET 15 Dec 18 @NOR
7 Open Bye 16 Dec 24 DAL
8 Oct 30 MIN 17 Jan 1 @ATL
9 Nov 6 @TBB . MON SAT
CAR Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Jake Delhomme 0 0 210,1
RB DeShaun Foster 90 10 0
RB Stephen Davis 20,1 0 0
TE Kris Mangum 0 10 0
WR Steve Smith 0 90,1 0
WR Keary Colbert 0 40 0
WR Rod Gardner 0 40 0
PK John Kasay 3 FG 2 XP -

and apparently "good to go" and Foster is just still waiting for his next injury. Somewhere on the bench, Nick Goings is twiddling his thumbs knowing at some point this is all going to fall back to him eventually. The Panthers want Davis for his short-yardage ability and goal line carries. Coming back from micro fracture surgery so soon, and at the age of 31, he's not likely to ever see a 25 carry game again. Foster has been named the starter but that was before Davis looked like a viable option.

Until we see more, the safest bet is that Foster will be the primary ball carrier with Davis contributing in short yardage. And eventually, Nick Goings saying "ready now?"

Wide Receivers: The loss of Muhammad is not a positive, but it is no surprise. He wasn't even a lock to be on the team last summer. With Steve Smith back from a broken leg and Keary Colbert, the passing attack should be in fine shape. The addition of Rod Gardner may even give Colbert a run on the #2 spot if Gardner can show something early in the season.

Colbert was a nonfactor in the two meetings last year, gaining only 39 and 22 yards with no scores. Muhammad was a monster that hopefully Smith will replicate. Recall that Smith was outstanding at the end of 2003 and almost "uncoverable" much like Muhammad turned into last season.

Tight Ends: Kris Mangum is the starter but the Panthers don't use the tight end spot the same under HC John Fox and OC Dan Henning as the old Wesley Walls days. Mangum only had 323 yards and three scores in 2004.

Match Against the Defense: The Saints have made several upgrades on defense - particularly to the secondary but how well it all comes together in this first game after the hurricane remains to be seen. With Davis and Foster in the picture for running back, it hard to rely on the respective roles but given the uncertainty around this game, about the most reliable call would be for average sort of numbers. I just cannot see the Panthers wanting to roll up a big score (if it were even possible) and the healthy Panther defense should keep the score down. That means more running and less passing.