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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
December 14, 2005
Season Ticket
Saturday Sun 1 PM Sun 1 PM Sun 4 PM Sun 8:30 PM
KC at NYG CAR at NO* SD at IND CLE at OAK* Mon 9 PM
  NYJ at MIA SF at JAC* Updated* Times ET

Prediction: Carolina 24, New Orleans 10

The Panthers come off a painful loss to the Buccaneers last week and now are tied for the NFC South lead. The Saints... well... they come off their tenth loss of the year but at least this week get to return home. Such as it is. The Panthers won 23-20 in the home opener against the Saints this season and Carolina has no more room for error.

Update: Aaron Brooks has been benched for the rest of the season according to HC Jim Haslett and Todd Bouman has been given the start. I have adjusted the numbers slightly with Bouman playing but he'll obviously be a big unknown. That can be an advantage or a disadvantage.

Carolina Panthers (9-4)
1 20-23 NOR 10 30-3 NYJ
2 27-17 NE 11 3-13 @CHI
3 24-27 @MIA 12 13-9 @BUF
4 32-29 GBP 13 24-6 ATL
5 24-20 @ARI 14 10-20 TBB
6 21-20 @DET 15 Dec 18 @NOR
7 Open Bye 16 Dec 24 DAL
8 38-13 MIN 17 Jan 1 @ATL
9 34-14 @TBB . MON SAT
CAR at NO Rush Catch Pass
QB Jake Delhomme 0 0 250,2
RB DeShaun Foster 70,1 20 0
TE Kris Mangum 0 10 0
WR Steve Smith 0 130,1 0
WR Keary Colbert 0 30 0
WR Ricky Proehl 0 40,1 0
PK John Kasay 1 FG 3 XP -
Pregame Notes: The Panthers are now locked with the Bucs after trading games where the visitors took a relatively easy win. The problem here is that the offense that had been clicking through week ten now has only produced 13 or less points in three of the last four games. The running game looked finally fixed after the Atlanta game but against the Bucs - still looks pretty much broken.

Quarterback: The passing game with Jake Delhomme continues to be little more than searching for Steve Smith and his 220 yards and one score last week against the Bucs was about average for what he's done since week nine when the Panthers stopped passing. Had Delhomme continued his ways of the first half of the season, he'd be one of the top quarterbacks since he had 13 scores in the first seven games but since that he's only managed six scores in six games.

Delhomme threw for 212 yards and one score against the Saints in week one.

Running Backs: That DeShaun Foster magic only lasted one week. After rushing for 131 yards against Atlanta, Foster could only produce 46 yards on 14 carries against the visiting Bucs last week and his role in the passing game disappeared as well. Stephen Davis had four carries for 23 yards and late this week was placed on injured reserve with a swollen knee that would not heal.

Back in the opener, Stephen Davis ran for 81 yards and one touchdown against the Saints while Foster only had nine carries for 41 yards.

Wide Receivers: Steve Smith recorded his eighth game over 100 yards last week and he still leads the NFL in receiving yardage with 1329 yards. He's getting almost no help from any other wideout though Ricky Proehl showed up for one touchdown last week. Compared to most teams, the Panthers appear to be using Steve Smith and a bunch of tight ends since any performance over 20 yards in a game has to be Smith's.

Smith opened his season with eight catches for 138 yards and a score against the Saints. Colbert only had two catches for 11 yards.

Tight Ends: Kris Mangum showed up for an unusual four catches for 30 yards last week but he's more often been catching one pass per game.

Match Against the Defense: The Saints rushing defense has actually been at least average to good this season, so look for the struggling ground game of the Panthers to turn in some moderate numbers unless Foster can rip off a long run to boost his numbers. There is a nice chance of a rushing score as well but that could end up favoring Stephen Davis in a cameo role.

Delhomme already had an average game against the Saints when he threw for 212 yards and one score and while the Saints statistically have been fairly good against the pass, they have also not played many teams that could pass well. Expect two scores from Delhomme this week and decent yardage in a game they have to win. That obviously favors Smith to have a big game again and should see one of the other wideouts reach the endzone as well. Colbert has a decent match-up but he's been so bad that he has no reliability.

New Orleans Saints (3-10)
1 23-20 @CAR 10 Open Bye
2 10-27 NYG 11 17-24 @NE
3 16-33 @MIN 12 21-19 @NYJ
4 19-7 BUF 13 3-10 TBB
5 3-52 @GBP 14 17-36 @ATL
6 31-34 ATL 15 Dec 18 CAR
7 17-20 @STL 16 Dec 24 DET
8 6-21 MIA 17 Jan 1 @TBB
9 17-20 CHI . MON SAT
NOR vs CAR Rush Catch Pass
QB Todd Bouman 10 0 170,1
RB Aaron Stecker 20 20 0
RB Antowain Smith 40 10 0
TE Zack Hilton 0 40,1 0
WR Joe Horn 0 30 0
WR Donte Stallworth 0 40 0
WR Az-Zahir Hakim 0 20 0
PK John Carney 1 FG 1 XP -

Pregame Notes: The Saints are playing like they have the general talent to succeed, but in every game they rarely get any breaks and match every good play with a turnover or dropped pass. The frustration is starting to boil over, understandably, and the team is just on the verge of accepting the futility of the season. The only real consistency with Brooks has been erratic and error-prone play and the running game left long ago with McAllister.

Quarterback: Aaron Brooks has been so kind to opposing secondaries with interceptions that he should appear as an active for the other team's defense. Brooks had a four interception game against the Buccaneers with one returned for a score in week 13. He has 17 interceptions on the year against only 13 touchdowns. Brooks only threw for 192 yards and no scores in the previous meeting with the Panthers.

Running Backs: Antowain Smith scored last week for only the second game this season and gained 60 yards on only 11 carries but as with most games - he just is not getting the volume of runs to matter much. Aaron Stecker had seven rushes for 35 yards as well and the Saints are bringing in Anthony Thomas for one run per week. Going against the formidable front line of the Panthers this week, the split duties almost guarantee moderate yardage by either Smith or Stecker.

Back in the home opener, Deuce McAllister only gained 64 yards on 26 carries but scored twice.

Wide Receivers: Donte Stallworth had four catches for 47 yards while Joe Horn managed to catch five passes for 66 yards in the previous game against Carolina. Stallworth has been a bigger part of the passing offense since that game though he was invisible in the second half last week when the Saints needed him most. Joe Horn had an uptick in production last Monday when he had five catches for 54 yards though he lost a fumble. Az-Zahir Hakim had the score against the Falcons and this trio has big potential but as with all things Saints this year - they are plagued by inconsistent play, errant throws and dropped passes.

Tight Ends: Zack Hilton has been turning in around 40 to 50 yards in each of the last four games. He's become a favorite target of Brooks on third downs.

Match Against the Defense: The Saints rushing game was bad against the Panthers earlier this year when they still had McAllister, so it's highly unlikely that the split between Smith and Stecker will produce anything of fantasy note. Look for only moderate numbers here and that from the combination of the two.

Brooks could throw for three scores here or turn in another bad game as he already had against the Panthers. His inconsistency and error-prone ways make a bad game the most likely to happen and the Saints frustration is just about to boil over and cause the Saints to fall apart. The Panthers have to win this game and the Saints are just in the way. In the last nine games, the Panthers passing defense has only allowed three touchdowns.