Thursday Night Football Preview: New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers

Rookie Saints receiver Brandin Cooks scored twice last week against Green Bay

It’s week nine of the NFL season, and the stakes are high as two NFC South rivals get set to do battle in prime-time on Thursday Night Football. Carolina currently lead the division with a 3-4-1 record, while the Saints sit just behind them at 3-4. As you can tell, despite neither team enjoying a good start to the campaign they’re both well in the hunt for a post-season berth at the mid-point despite their lack of wins early on. Keep it right here to find out who has the edge in this evening’s contest.

When New Orleans has the ball…
The Saints have struggled to post the lofty points totals they’re accustomed to in 2014, although that changed somewhat at the weekend when they dropped 44 points on the Green Bay Packers. First round pick Brandin Cooks finally broke out with a pair of touchdowns, one through the air and one on the ground, while Jimmy Graham also scored for the first time in nearly a month after a shoulder injury had relegated him to merely being a decoy. Carolina boasted one of the leagues top defenses a year ago but that is no longer the case; linebacker Luke Kuechly’s play has dropped off slightly (although he is still one of the top players in the NFL at his position), while the loss of Greg Hardy on domestic abuse charges has stung the pass rush. The Panthers run defense has suffered more than any part of the unit, however, which means that Saints running back Mark Ingram could enjoy a successful outing. Edge: New Orleans

When Carolina has the ball…
It’s all about Cam Newton when it comes to the Panthers offense, both with his legs and with his arm, but unfortunately for Carolina Newton’s rib injury has limited his effectiveness in both areas so far this season. He’s thrown for just 8 touchdowns through eight games, while his one rushing touchdown is way down on his normal productivity on the ground. Injuries to running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams have also hit the offense hard, although rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been a bright spot and his combination of good hands and great size make him a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. Defensively New Orleans have been poor, with acclaimed free agent addition Jarius Byrd proving ineffective before he went down for the season with an injury. Edge: Even

Special Teams
Saints kicker Shayne Graham has missed just one kick this season and has been as steady as usual, although he lacks elite leg strength. Graham Gano has also been productive for the Panthers, although he’s missed one more kick than Graham. Philly Brown, Carolina’s punt returner, is the only player from either side to score a special teams touchdown in 2014.

Injury Report
Panthers punt returner Brown is out with a concussion, while running back DeAngelo Williams is set to play. For New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas is out, as is linebacker David Hawthorne. TE Jimmy Graham is set to play, while halfback Khiry Robinson is questionable with a forearm injury.

Prediction
Saints 30, Panthers 20

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