Monday Night Preview: Can the Saints Continue Their Reign Over the Panthers?
This week's edition of Monday Night Football features the 11-2 New Orleans Saints traveling to take on the 6-7 Carolina Panthers. The Saints owned this matchup a year ago, defeating Carolina three times, including a playoff clash.
The Saints enter this contest fresh of a 28-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while the Panthers have dropped five straight games. Carolina's most recent defeat came against the Cleveland Browns by a score of 26-20. With New Orleans looking to take control of the race for the NFC's top seed, here are a few matchups likely to influence the outcome of this game.
On the New Orleans side, Drew Brees has quarterbacked the Saints' offense very efficiently in his age-39 season. So far this year, Brees has 3,463 passing yards, 31 scores and only 4 interceptions. According to our in-house Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Brees has played at an elite level. Among 28 quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts, Brees' 0.39 Passing NEP per drop back ranks second only behind Patrick Mahomes. Playing some of the best football of his career, Brees could notch his first MVP trophy this season.
On the other side, Cam Newton has battled a shoulder injury but has still put up solid numbers. He has managed to account for 3,264 passing yards, 24 scores, and 12 picks -- plus 754 yards and 6 more scores on the ground. Looking at NEP, Newton's 0.15 Passing NEP per drop back ranks 12th among the aforementioned group. The Panthers will need Newton to continue his strong season in order to upset the Saints.
Running Back Breakdown
Over the course of the campaign, the New Orleans' backfield has evolved into a two-man committee, featuring both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Both have impressed this season with Kamara and Ingram accounting for 793 and 519 rushing yards, respectively. According to our numbers, Kamara's 0.13 Rushing NEP per carry ranks fourth among the 19 running backs with at least 150 carries. While Ingram's 109 carries don't qualify for the group above, his 0.03 Rushing NEP per carry ranks well below Kamara's mark, although Ingram's clip is still an above-average number. Kamara also offers more in the receiving game, totaling 591 receiving yards, while Ingram has accounted for a mere 136.
For Carolina, Christian McCaffrey has turned into bell-cow monster, rushing for 926 yards on 179 carries. Among the group mentioned above, McCaffrey's 0.09 Rushing NEP per carry ranks fifth. Similar to Kamara, McCaffrey also contributes a ton in the passing game, providing 701 receiving yards on 86 catches. With Newton's health in question, the Panthers could keep leaning on CMC and the short-passing game.
According to our schedule-adjusted metrics, the Saints enter this contest with the 15th ranked defense while the Panthers slot in 27th.
Digging a little deeper, the Saints rank 9th against the run and 14th against the pass. On the other side, the Panthers sit 15th against the run and 30th against the pass. Worse across the board, the Panthers could struggle to defend Drew Brees and the Saints' passing attack even though this one isn't in the Superdome.
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