New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers

New Orleans:  Well, the season without offensive guru Sean Payton didn’t start out as planned, as the Saints ended up getting run over by the RGIII hype train in their own backyard.  Drew Brees started out slow, but ended up with his fairly standard good numbers as the Saints staged a furious comeback that fell just short.

Now, Brees and the gang face off in a critical early season divisional game and cannot afford to drop into an 0-2 hole.  If the Saints lose this one, can you imagine all the press about how the Saints aren’t the same squad without their leader on the sidelines?  They don’t want to see that happen, so look for the Saints to go large with the passing game early and often.

If Brees is going to get his team on top early, he’ll have to get the ball as much as possible to his big three playmakers:  Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, and Darren Sproles.  It was strange to see the Saints not really get Sproles involved until the second half in the last game, and I imagine that will change this week.  All three along with Brees are strong plays against a Panthers defense that was like a sieve a season ago.

Good Start:  QB Drew Brees, RB Darren Sproles, WR Marques Colston, TE Jimmy Graham

Middle of the Road:  WR Lance Moore

Bad Start:  RB Pierre Thomas, RB Mark Ingram, WR Devery Henderson

Carolina:  Talk about your anti-climactic season debuts.  The Panthers fell extremely flat against a beatable Buccaneers team, and now face an angry Saints team looking to quickly put their Week 1 loss firmly in their rearview mirror.  Cam Newton not only didn’t look like the special dual running-throwing threat he was last year (only 5 rushes for 4 yards), but he also threw two critical picks.  He certainly didn’t get much help from his team mates save for Steve Smith, and that is going to need to stop if he’s going to have a shot at getting the Panthers into contention for a playoff spot.

Chief amongst their issues is not being able to get a ground game going.  In the absence of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams essentially did nothing, rushing 6 times for a grand total of -1 yard.  For now, you can’t go anywhere near the Panthers run game, which is sad considering Carolina once sported the best 1-2 punch in the league between Williams and Stewart.

Good Start:  QB Cam Newton, WR Steve Smith

Middle of the Road:  WR Brandon LaFell, TE Greg Olsen

Bad Start:  RB DeAngelo Williams, RB Jonathan Stewart