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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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The Huddle
~ 2008 ~
Season Ticket
Sunday Late

Prediction: CAR 13, SD 27

This should be an interesting game in that it features the Chargers - who always score well and then fall short in the playoffs - against the Panthers who many believe are about to take a step back up to the playoffs. Both teams are entering their second seasons with the current offensive coaching staff and in San Diego, almost the exact same players return. The difference is that the Panthers lost several players to injury early last year which led to a 7-9 season while the Chargers waited until the playoffs to be without their best players. There are injury issues to be answered on either team but played at home has to favor the Chargers in a big way. The Panthers will be without Steve Smith and while they have restocked the depth charts, it'll take more than opening week to come together.

Carolina Panthers 0-0)
Homefield: Bank of America Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 @SD - +9 42
2 CHI - - -
3 @MIN - - -
4 ATL - - -
5 KC - - -
6 @TB - - -
7 NO - - -
8 ARZ - - -
9 BYE - - -
10 @OAK - - -
11 DET - - -
12 @ATL - - -
13 @GB - - -
14 TB - - -
15 DEN - - -
16 @NYG - - -
17 @NO - - -
CAR at SD Rush Catch Pass
QB Jake Delhomme 10   230,1
RB Jonathan Stewart 40 10  
RB DeAngelo Williams 60 30  
TE Jeff King   10  
WR Dwayne Jarrett   40  
WR Muhsin Muhammad   60,1  
WR D.J. Hackett   60  
PK John Kasay 2 FG 1 XP  
Pregame Notes: The Panthers return Jake Delhomme (hopefully) to the passing game that will be without Steve Smith for a couple of games since Steve surprisingly still has temper issues even after attending anger management the previous time he went postal on someone bigger than him. But the Panthers have brought back Muhsin Muhammad and added D.J. Hackett in the slot. The rushing game will no longer feature DeShaun Foster and instead has some mixture of DeAngelo Williams and the rookie Jonathan Stewart. Last year was no measuring stick with Delhomme getting hurt so there is optimism that the offense can see a turn around this season - and perhaps a big one.

Quarterback: Jake Delhomme only played for three games last season before injuring his elbow and missing the rest of the year. He underwent Tommy John surgery to repair ligament damage and by all accounts his recovery has gone very well. Delhomme says it feels better than it has in years. WIth a revamped set of receivers and at least the potential for an upgraded rushing attack, this could be Delhomme's best season - if he can remain healthy.

Running Backs: One of the more interesting situations for fantasy fans lies in the backfield for the Panthers. Who will be the primary back and just how "primary" will that really be? The departure of DeShaun Foster immediately thrust DeAngelo Williams to the #1 spot on the depth chart but the Panthers have never trusted Williams in the past two years despite lackluster results from Foster. And the Panthers used their 1.13 pick to grab Jonathan Stewart who was consider the most complete back by many scouts.

Stewart was recuperating from toe surgery and has been blessed by the team doctor. But he only played in two preseason games and his first was forgettable. His second was electric with a 50-yard run but Williams ripped off a 60-yarder only a few minutes later. So the sharing ratio between the two remains to be seen and will no doubt adjust as one or the other is more successful. A 60/40 share favoring the veteran Williams is a good starting place but the entire situation will be followed with interest by fantasy owners and not the least our message board where "Williams or Stewart?" became one of the most debated questions.

Wide Receivers: Steve Smith misses two games thanks to his most recent team suspension but in his absence the Panthers will be relying on Dwayne "Don't call me a bust yet anyway" Jarrett, Muhsin Muhammad and D.J. Hackett. The return of Muhammad from Chicago was primarily done because he obviously has chemistry with Delhomme and has been a great downfield blocker for the rushing game. But Delhomme has been genuinely excited to have Muhammad again so his role may be a little more than blocker/mentor/occasional receiver. The addition of D.J. Hackett should supply Delhomme with the best slot receiver he's ever had. Unfortunately the season opens in San Diego where the defense should make the absence of Smith painfully apparent.

Tight Ends: The tight ends in Carolina - primarily Jeff King - had a bigger year in 2007 than normal but the six touchdowns and 553 yards gained by team tight ends still only ranked around 15th in the league last year and was that high only because of a lack of receivers. Look for 2006 to repeat when the Panthers ranked in the bottom three for both tight end yardage and scores.

Match Against the Defense: The biggest problem here is that the Chargers were dominating when at home last year. And now the Panthers show up without Steve Smith and integrating new players into the offense. Shawne Merriman may have a knee problem but he is going to play and at home the Chargers were 7-1 for a good reason. It's tough to forecast how new receivers and one new running back may fare in their first game without Smith and on the road against a great defense. But it is unlikely that any of the Panthers will post big numbers. If you can wait on starting either Stewart or Williams, use your other options because San Diego was not a hospitable place to play last year.

The Chargers only allowed about one passing score per week at home and with a new set of receivers, that's likely the limit for Delhomme. In more bad news, the Chargers only allowed one rushing score at home last year and Larry Johnson was the only runner with more than 62 rushing yards. Since there will be a split, figure on a quiet start for the new Panthers rushing attack.

Gaining Fantasy Points CAR 30 24 23 18 25 29
Preventing Fantasy Points SD 10 18 10 25 3 8
Rank Advantage (-31 to 31) CAR -20 -6 -13 7 -22 -21

San Diego Chargers (0-0)
Homefield: Qualcomm Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 CAR - -9 42
2 @DEN - - -
3 NYJ - - -
4 @OAK - - -
5 @MIA - - -
6 NE - - -
7 @BUF - - -
8 @NO - - -
9 BYE - - -
10 KC - - -
11 @PIT - - -
12 IND - - -
13 ATL - - -
14 OAK - - -
15 @KC - - -
16 @TB - - -
17 DEN - - -
SDC vs CAR Rush Catch Pass
QB Philip Rivers     220,2
RB LaDainian Tomlinson 110,1 40  
TE Antonio Gates   40  
WR Vincent Jackson   50,1  
WR Craig Davis   20  
WR Chris Chambers   70,1  
PK Nate Kaeding 2 FG 3 XP  

Pregame Notes: Once again the Chargers had a great season going 11-5 and the new offense under Norv Turner and Clarence Selmon produced top five scoring numbers and a trip to the playoffs where once again the Chargers fell short. This time it wasn't at home and the injured players merely happened to include Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson. No real changes to the offense other than hoping that all prove to be healthy and remain so. Gates is the biggest question mark but Tomlinson finally proved to be mortal last year as well.

Quarterback: Philip Rivers is fully recovered from the torn ACL that plagued him in the final game last season and says he cannot tell which knee was injured. He gets his second season in the same scheme and there's no reason - barring injury - that he shouldn't end up with better numbers. The addition of Chris Chambers mid-season of 2007 balances the offense and gives Rivers plenty of viable options on every pass play.

Running Backs: After seven seasons in the NFL, LaDainian Tomlinson gets perhaps his final chance at aniother big year before the 30-year old curse hits him next June. But he has rushed for at least 1200 yards every season and has over 1400 rushing yards in each of the last three years - he is hardly slowing down. His 31 touchdowns in 2006 fell to "only" 18 in 2007 but there's no reason to expect anything less than excellence from Tomlinson this year.

His slightly torn MCL last January did not require surgery and he has a green light for the season. The Chargers lost Michael Turner to Atlanta and replaced him with the bruising Jacob Hester. It's a move that the Chargers hope to never discover how important is was to make.

Wide Receivers: The addition of Chris Chambers last year had the wide receivers in San Diego turn in their best season in many years. They ranked 7th with 2940 cumulative yards and had 12 scores. Vincent Jackson never broke out like hoped but part of that stems from the addition of Chambers. Craig Davis is still in the developmental stage but has shown a few flashes. With Antonio Gates still less than 100%, the wideouts could see even more use this year.

Tight Ends: One of the biggest questions is about to be answered - exactly how good is Antonio Gates' toe? After sitting out the offseason and much of training camp, Gates has returned to some route running and has assured everyone that he will play in this game. But he will be playing with at least some pain in his toe and that could become worse at any time at least potentially. He could end up as a risky start all season but his obvious upside means he starts until he proves he should not. You are going to start him regardless this week - we'll see in week two if you are still crossing your fingers for luck.

Match Against the Defense: The Panthers defense declined last year but has looked better if only briefly this summer. Look for a nice opener for the Chargers who should get at least decent numbers from all the usual suspects. Still far too early to expect Gates to be back to form but Tomlinson should have a good opener to prove he's not bothered by his knee. This game should help not only to answer how well Gates is, but how the offense will compensate for him if he is not back to form.

Gaining Fantasy Points SD 23 2 31 4 12 1
Preventing Fantasy Points CAR 19 16 15 19 19 14
Rank Advantage (-31 to 31) SD -4 14 -16 15 -7 13
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