|NFL Week 12: Saints at Panthers Preview & Picks|
|Written by Anthony Rome|
|Thursday, 22 November 2007 02:48|
NFC South Showdown
Two 4-6 NFC South rivals square off Sunday when the Saints visit the Panthers in a game between teams hanging around in the division race despite their recent struggles.
Oddsmakers from Bodog have made New Orleans -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 41 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 73% of bets for this game have been placed on New Orleans -3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
After winning its division for the first time in six years en route to the first NFC championship game in franchise history last season, New Orleans dropped its first four games this year and a return to the playoffs appeared to be very much in jeopardy.
The Saints, however, bounced back with four straight victories, pulling within a half-game of division-leading Tampa Bay at the time.
They've taken two big steps backward in the last two weeks with a home loss to previously winless St. Louis and a road defeat to Houston. The back-to-back losses dropped New Orleans into a second-place tie with struggling Carolina, two games behind Tampa Bay and two out of a wild-card spot.
"A lot of things have been said, but we need to start doing," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said Monday. "There's probably been too much saying and not enough doing."
The same can be said for the Panthers, who have lost four straight after a 4-2 start.
Part of Carolina's problems has been the absence of some of its top offensive options. The Panthers have used four quarterbacks, including three different starters, because of injuries. Last week, they also had to deal with wide receiver Steve Smith sitting out with a shin injury and Carolina lost 31-17 at Green Bay.
"Are we frustrated? No, because we haven't quit," said Smith, who returned to practice Wednesday and hopes to play Sunday.
Smith has 44 catches for 542 yards and six touchdowns in his last six games against New Orleans, with at least 85 receiving yards in five of those games. He was held to 47 yards with a touchdown at the Superdome on Oct. 7, but the Panthers won 16-13 on John Kasay's 52-yard field goal as time expired.
That was Carolina's fourth straight win - and eighth in 10 games - against New Orleans.
Brees threw two interceptions without a touchdown in the first meeting. He also struggled to find the end zone last Sunday, when he had 290 passing yards but managed just one TD pass while getting picked off twice in the Saints' 23-10 loss at Houston.
Both interceptions came on passes that bounced off the hands of Saints tight end Eric Johnson.
"We're beating ourselves in a lot of cases," Brees said. "Obviously, you have to give (the other team) some credit. But when we just evaluate ourselves, we can truly look at the film and say. 'If we don't commit that penalty or if we don't turn the ball over here, we give ourselves a chance to win.'"
Brees has 11 touchdown passes and one interception in the Saints' four wins, compared to four TD passes and 13 interceptions in New Orleans' losses. He already has exceeded his interception total of 11 from last season, and is two picks shy of his career high of 16 - set in 2002 while with San Diego.
"There were a lot of opportunities that I felt were wasted," coach Sean Payton said Monday after his team committed two turnovers in Houston territory, including Reggie Bush's first-quarter fumble at the 1-yard line.
The Saints remain hopeful they can turn their season around - again - because of a run of three straight games against division rivals. After visiting Carolina, New Orleans hosts Tampa Bay on Dec. 2 and visits Atlanta on Dec. 10.
"That's the only silver lining there is right now," linebacker Scott Fujita said. "That's the only one I can find, and I've been searching for one."
The Panthers will turn to Vinny Testaverde again, instead of David Carr, as they try to boost their division title hopes.
"Right now, if everybody is healthy, Vinny will be the starter," Carolina coach John Fox said Wednesday. "We make decisions based on who gives us the best chance."
The 44-year-old Testaverde made his fourth start of the season last Sunday, completing 19 of 37 passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Packers.
"I thought our offense moved the ball well," said Fox, whose team fell three yards short of the season-high 385 it posted in a season-opening win at St. Louis. "We had more production today than we've had in quite some time."
A healthy Smith could only help as the Panthers try to avoid their first five-game skid since losing six in a row Oct. 3-Nov. 7, 2004. On Wednesday, Fox sounded optimistic about his top receiver.
"I think he was close last week," Fox said. "Thankfully we've got him back this week."
By: Staff Writers - Email Us
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