New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers
Friday October 31st, 00:25
Live on Sky Sports 1
The fact that Carolina can top the NFC South with a losing (3-4-1) record explains just how weak this division has been this year. Next up for the Panthers, it's the team just behind them, second placed New Orleans (3-4-0). For New Orleans, last weeks 44-23 win at home to Green Bay was as impressive as it was surprising. The Saints though have always been a different proposition within the Superdome, so there's no guarantee that form will translate to this week's outdoor game in Carolina. Indeed, having won all three home games and lost all four on the road this season, it would need quite some faith to think the Saints will suddenly stop being such sickly travellers.
It's the same for Saints' quarterback Drew Brees, who's such a great player that I can even forgive him those awful Pepsi adverts. But look back through his career, and year on year Brees performs far worse on the road than at home. This season, his QB rating is only ten points down when playing away. Usually, it's 20-30 points down. Which suggests to me either his soft drink has become a miracle cure or, much more likely, Brees is set to have some particularly bad games in the back half of this season.
The Saints may well be aware of Brees' struggles on the road and choose to lean instead on running back Mark Ingram here. Ingram posted a monster 172 yards last week. And with Khiry Robinson likely to join Pierre Thomas on the sidelines, it looks like the 24 year old will carry the Saints ground attack single-handed. With the Panthers giving-up an average of more than 130 yards per game to running backs, that should equate to a decent game for Ingram. And the conditions look ripe for him to hit paydirt too. Carolina have given up 16 rushing TDs so far, the joint second-worst in the NFL. Ingram has scored in three of his four games this season and so should be in with a good chance of getting another here.
Carolina are a side who've massively underperformed by last season's standards. Their defense is way down across the statistical board. On offense, some pundits have treated quarterback Cam Newton more like Cooperman (for fans of Tommy Cooper) than Superman (as he's often referred to). But while he has at times been erratic, the stats suggest that overall Newton isn't playing too bad at all. His pass completion rate is right up there with other seasons at just over 60 percent, so there's nothing wrong with his arm. His total passing yards are also on par. He is throwing less touchdowns. But then he's also giving up less interceptions.
The only major difference this year is that Cam is running less. Less often and for less yardage. Which suggests he's not yet the runner he was, prior to his off-season ankle ligament surgery. With Superman struggling to take off, and Carolina's running game ranked just 27th in the NFL, it's hard to see the Panthers making many hard yards against the league's 10th best run-defense, which has been conceding just four yards per carry.
So a lot could depend on Newton's arm and his ability to find first round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin who, with five TDs and 571 yards from eight games, is enjoying a fantastic debut season. Benjamin has become a deep ball threat, as shown by his leaping 50 yard catch against the Seahawks last week. And at six feet five inches tall, he's always a viable target for a lofted pass into the endzone. The quote of him getting more than 55 yards looks an opportunity that simply cannot be missed. Jump, like Benjamin, all over it. Supporting him in the passing game is tight end Greg Olsen, who with five TDs and 509 yards himself, is having the best season of his career. Between them, Olsen and Benjamin should have a field day against a Saints pass-defense that concedes almost 300 yards a game and ranks next to last in the NFL.
Calling the winner here is difficult. And it's hard to back a Saints team that's been so poor on the road, especially at odds-on. Neither team looks like it has confidence or a killer edge at present and so this could be a close one, which makes the Panthers with a field goal headstart the value call. Better still though, is to get on board the few individuals who could see the bulk of possession in this game, with the outside chance of overtime also worth considering.
Kelvin Benjamin receiving yards to be more than 55.5 @ 1.9110/11 or better
Mark Ingram rushing yards to be more than 85.5 @ 1.9110/11 or better
Carolina (+3.5) to beat New Orleans @ 1.738/11 (Sportsbook)
Mark Ingram to score a touchdown anytime @ 1.738/11 (Sportsbook)
Greg Olsen to score a touchdown anytime @ 2.01/1 (Sportsbook)
Kelvin Benjamin to score a touchdown anytime @ 1.738/11 (Sportsbook)
Back overtime to be played at 12.011/1 or better