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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey

The Huddle
~ 2007 ~
Season Ticket

Sunday night

Prediction: CAR 20, STL 24

The season opens with a battle of the 8-8 teams but while the Rams in a rebuilding year probably exceeded expectations, the Panthers went from Super Bowl hopefuls to battling just to end .500 on the year. But for all the struggles of the Panthers in 2006, they still managed to shutout the Rams 15-0 in week 11. The Panthers think they are back and have a new offense that they like while the Rams have restocked some of the shelves for Bulger. This is a coin flip game but one that the Rams need more - their first half schedule is much tougher than Carolina's.

Update: Drew Bennett has been limited in practice due to a thigh strain and while he is expected to play, I am downgrading him slightly and giving a small bump to Isaac Bruce as the safer bet.

Carolina Panthers (8-8)
Homefield: Bank of America Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 @STL   -1 42
2 HOU 16-Sep SUN 1:00 PM
3 @ATL 23-Sep SUN 4:15 PM
4 TB 30-Sep SUN 4:05 PM
5 @NO 7-Oct SUN 1:00 PM
6 @ARI 14-Oct SUN 4:05 PM
7 BYE - - -
8 IND 28-Oct SUN 1:00 PM
9 @TEN 4-Nov SUN 1:00 PM
10 ATL 11-Nov SUN 1:00 PM
11 @GB 18-Nov SUN 1:00 PM
12 NO 25-Nov SUN 1:00 PM
13 SF 2-Dec SUN 1:00 PM
14 @JAC 9-Dec SUN 1:00 PM
15 SEA 16-Dec SUN 1:00 PM
16 DAL 22-Dec SAT 8:15 PM
17 @TB 30-Dec SUN 1:00 PM
CAR at STL Rush Catch Pass
QB Jake Delhomme     230,1
RB DeShaun Foster 90,1 20  
RB DeAngelo Williams 70 30  
TE Jeff King   20  
WR Steve Smith   100,1  
WR Keary Colbert   30  
WR Drew Carter   20  
PK John Kasay 2 XP 2 FG 8 Pts
Pregame Notes: The Panthers suffered a near melt down last year as the offense and defense both had injuries and surprisingly sputtered despite being preseason darlings to make some playoff noise last year. But the Panthers dumped the old offense and Jeff Davidson is bringing in a new scheme that so far has received rave reviews by the players and that is quite unlike what happened last year. Not many changes to the team besides dumping Keyshawn, they just need to make what they have work - and stay healthy.

Quarterback: Jake Delhomme received much of the blame for the offensive woes last year - probably more than he deserved. He only played in 13 games and totaled just 2805 passing yards with 17 touchdowns. Much publicized too was the addition of David Carr as the back-up but until Delhomme flops again this year (and he shouldn't), Carr is just a clipboard guy now. Delhomme had two straight seasons with 24+ touchdowns before last year and did that with less players than he has now. This is a pivotal year in his career and the new offense should help turn around his production.

Delhomme only completed 13 of 25 for 191 yards and one score against the Rams last year.

Running Backs: Year two of the DeAngelo Williams watch which could well become nothing more than an annual event if the Panthers continue to insist on using DeShaun Foster who ran for a career high 273 carries and 897 yards last year but only scored three times. In four years of playing, Foster still only has seven rushing touchdowns after over 600 attempts. And he gained just a just under 4.0 yards per carry last year.

DeAngelo Williams was the hot rookie back but he rarely was used much last year and ended with just 121 carries for 501 yards (4.1 YPC) and scored just once on the ground. He did add 33 catches for 313 yards and another score. But he only was given more than 8 carries in four different games. The new offense was heralded as similar to the one that Williams played in at Memphis but Foster has looked pretty good this summer and appears likely to keep the same roles in place until something happens to change them. That could be an injury by the once frail Foster or a few really good efforts by Williams. The schedule is light for the first half of the year, so Williams either makes a big move early on or just more of the same will happen. The offense is looking good and someone will benefit... or will it just be both once again?

Williams had a career best 114 rushing yards on 20 carries against the Rams last year while Foster gained 63 yards on nine runs against St. Louis.

Wide Receivers: Steve Smith missed the first two games of 2006 with a hamstring strain but came roaring back in week three and onward until the offense just stopped trying hard in the final weeks of the season. Smith still ended with 1166 yards and eight scores on the year. what was most painful was his zero catch gain in week 16 which killed many fantasy playoff hopes. Smith is genuinely excited about the new direction of the offense this year and should continue to be the first read for Delhomme every passing play. One problem may exist though - there is no certain #2 in this offense. That was a boon in 2003 and 2004 for Smith and later Muhammad, but the Panthers dropped Keyshawn Johnson after drafting Dwayne Jarrett. Problem is that Jarrett has not shown enough yet to warrant a starting role nor even much playing time yet. Drew Carter was slated to be the #2 but he under whelmed in the summer and now Keary Colbert is back for yet another try to be a starter. Figure on the #2 wideout here to change though out the year until Jarrett finally merits the role. I will project for Colbert and Carter, but Jarrett may get some playing time. It's not prudent to start any of them on a fantasy team so far and your league could not be that deep.

Smith caught four passes for 90 yards and one score last year against the Rams.

Tight Ends: Jeff King has wrested the starting role from Michael Gaines which became even easier once Gaines was injured and slipped onto IR this week. But the Panthers have never used a tight end much since the days of Wesley Walls and the new offense so far doesn't appear likely to change that much. All combined in 2006, the tight ends only had one score and 316 yards.

No Carolina tight end had a catch against the Rams last year.

Match Against the Defense: The Rams defense ranked decent against the pass last year but mainly because everyone was running against them with relative ease. Not much in the way of change to the Rams defense so this week assume more of the same. That means the duo of Foster and Williams will combine in some yet unknown ratio to produce some very nice numbers. Foster is the better bet at this point but Williams will get enough playing time to water him down at least some.

Delhomme needs a good year and the team is champing at the bit to play. Look for a moderate effort here that mainly focuses on Steve Smith of course. The offense will rely more on the run and that depresses the passing numbers.

Gaining Fantasy Points CAR 21 21 11 31 22 24
Preventing Fantasy Points STL 8 31 19 8 13 19


St. Louis Rams (8-8)
Homefield: Edward Jones Dome
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 CAR   +1 42
2 SF 16-Sep SUN 1:00 PM
3 @TB 23-Sep SUN 1:00 PM
4 @DAL 30-Sep SUN 1:00 PM
5 ARI 7-Oct SUN 1:00 PM
6 @BAL 14-Oct SUN 1:00 PM
7 @SEA 21-Oct SUN 4:15 PM
8 CLE 28-Oct SUN 1:00 PM
9 BYE - - -
10 @NO 11-Nov SUN 1:00 PM
11 @SF 18-Nov SUN 4:15 PM
12 SEA 25-Nov SUN 1:00 PM
13 ATL 2-Dec SUN 1:00 PM
14 @CIN 9-Dec SUN 1:00 PM
15 GB 16-Dec SUN 1:00 PM
16 PIT 20-Dec THU 8:15 PM
17 @ARI 30-Dec SUN 4:15 PM
STL vs CAR Rush Catch Pass
QB Marc Bulger     240,2
RB Steven Jackson 70,1 30  
TE Randy McMichael   40,1  
WR Torry Holt   60  
WR Isaac Bruce   60,1  
WR Drew Bennett   40  
PK Jeff Wilkins 3 XP 1 FG 6 Pts

Pregame Notes: The Rams strung together a three game winning streak to end the year and put a stamp of approval on the first year of Scott Linehan as head coach. Sure the defense took a hot start and fizzled and the once red hot passing attack of the Rams showed some inconsistency, but Steven Jackson was born as an elite running back in the league and the offense should be even more diverse and capable in year two of the new scheme.

Quarterback: The switch to the new offense didn't spell the end to Marc Bulger being a top-flight fantasy quarterback, in fact he had a career high 4301 passing yards and threw a personal best 24 touchdowns. What was even better was that he didn't get beaten up on every throw and only had eight interceptions. And he finally lasted all 16 games.

But what was new was the inconsistency he had from week to week. He had eight games over 300 passing yards but twice came in under 200 yards and had five of his final eight games with only one or no touchdowns. That's what happens when the rushing game works and isn't used just to keep the passing game alive. His second worst effort of the year came when he threw for only 142 yards and no scores against the Panthers in week 11 of last year.

Running Backs: What a year for the big guy once Mike Martz was gone. Steven Jackson ran for 1528 yards (5th best) and added an amazing 90 catches for 806 yards as well. His 16 total scores ranked 3rd best and his 2334 total yards were better than any running back in the NFL last year. In a points per reception league, he was a goldmine that just got better as the year progressed. There is a definite possibility that all those catches will decline this year though. The Rams added a real tight end in Randy McMichael and Drew Bennett which should have some effect on the short throws that Jackson feasted on in 2006.

Steven Jackson only gained 27 yards on seven carries and added 30 yards on seven catches against the Panthers in 2006.

Wide Receivers: Torry Holt had a decent enough season with 93 catches for 1188 yards and ten scores but the problem came in how he did it. That was six big games to open the year when the offense was new and then a nosedive the rest of the way as the passes started going elsewhere. Holt only scored in two of the final ten games and only once more had over 100 yards after recording three in his first six weeks. Add in that Holt has been hampered by his knee that had surgery seven months ago and there are red flags on the supremely talented wideout. I am projecting for him to be healthy this week but it is a reality that Holt owners need to monitor this year.

Isaac Bruce lines up as the starter once again but that may not last the entire season and almost certainly not next year when Bruce turns 36 years old. Drew Bennett was acquired in the offseason and it is just a matter of time before he takes over the #2 spot.

Holt led all receivers in week 11 of last year when he had 68 yards on seven catches. No other receiver had more than 18 yards or one catch.

Tight Ends: The new offense was supposed to use this position and the Rams drafted two tight ends but little happened outside of a few games of marginal production from Joe Klopfenstein. Randy McMichael reunites with Linehan now after playing for him in 2005 when he had a career high five scores. This bears watching though with so many weapons, McMichael will never rival other tight ends who are primary targets for their quarterbacks.

Match Against the Defense: Which Panthers defense do we get this week? Most likely the same one that shut out the Rams in 2006 and that is starting the year healthy. The Rams are at home this time though and already know what they are getting into this time. Jackson could never get on track last year in Carolina but should produce at least moderate numbers here. What will be most interesting is how much McMichael is used against a defense that was terrible against tight ends last year.

The Rams open well which has been a signature of Linehan who helped direct week one upsets the last two years. This time he is only a one point underdog but has the weapons - new ones from last year with a tight end and a rushing game that supports the passing attack. Expect a decent showing here by Bulger who could ding the Panthers for a couple of scores but will need to go outside the traditional Holt/Bruce to get it done.

Gaining Fantasy Points STL 9 5 6 27 3 15
Preventing Fantasy Points CAR 20 8 5 31 11 7

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