When the Panthers and Saints take the field on Sunday, both teams will be playing to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start. The Panthers and Saints both suffered opening day shockers in week one, setting up this clash between two familiar foes.
Even if you’re not a fan of either one of these division rivals, you still might want to consider tuning in this weekend because bad blood will be sure to spill over from their meetings in 2011.
The Saints got the better of Carolina twice last season, winning a close contest in week five 30-27 in Charlotte and then in week 17 New Orleans rolled the Panthers 45-17 at home. The Panthers and Saints are tied 17-17 in the overall head-to-head matchup category.
The Saints are coming off a chaotic offseason that included multiple suspensions and fines stemming from the team’s Bounty Gate Scandal. Two suspensions that resulted in a full season ban of Saints head coach Sean Payton and another suspension that all but ousted former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
That’s where the bad blood officially boiled over for the Panthers.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton found out that he was a supposed target in the scandal, meaning the Saints defense had a bounty out for Newton last season. Newton took the high road and declined to comment on the issue, leaving Panthers fans hoping he can punish the Saints with his play on the field this Sunday.
The Panthers surely haven’t forgotten about the disrespect the Saints showed them in week 17 last year either. The Saints had locked down the NFC South title and the third seed in the NFC Playoffs. However, the Saints wanted to go for offensive records against a Panthers team that was without six defensive starters in the final week of 2011.
The Saints should have been resting players for the postseason, but instead decided to inflate their offensive totals while becoming recognized as the highest powered offense since the 2000 St. Louis Rams.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees had already surpassed Dan Marino’s all-time passing yards record, but wanted to pile on his numbers, so that he could finish ahead of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Fast forward to 2012 and the Panthers will have to turn any kind of anger from last year into disciplined football on defense. Brees can pick any defense apart, so the Panthers can’t afford to play with anger. They need to find a way to fuel that anger into aggressive yet poised football.
This game will be a grind for Carolina given that the Saints never quit and will grind on the Panthers’ defense all day long.
New Orleans is a much higher octane offense then what Carolina faced in their week one opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Carolina’s defense in week one kept them in the game for most of the day, that won’t be the case against the Saints this Sunday. The Panthers offense can’t afford to sputter like they did in the opener. If they do, then the Saints could possibly leave the Panthers playing from behind an insurmountable deficit for the entire game.
If the Panthers hope to have any success on offense then they need to run the ball effectively. Running back Jonathan Stewart is hopeful to return, which will definitely help Carolina’s ground attack; an area that needs much improvement after only gaining 10 yards on the ground in week one.
A key matchup to keep an eye on this Sunday will be between Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith and Saints safety Roman Harper. The two veterans will be sure to share some words with one another on Sunday. In week five last year, Harper delivered a dangerous cheap shot to Smith in the end zone well after Smith had scored a touchdown. A cheap shot that caused for both clubs to exchange heated words after the fact and one that set the tone for this rivalry throughout 2011 and into 2012.
It should be noted that Smith did sit out of the Panthers practice on Thursday of this week with soreness in his knee, but is expected to play in week two. Right now the Panthers have him listed as “questionable.”
Carolina will need both Stewart and Smith in the lineup if they hope to send the Saints packing with an 0-2 record.
Despite the drama surrounding this matchup, the key will be if the Panthers can improve in the run department and play smart on defense, hopefully forcing a few turnovers. A tall task going against a Saints team that went 13-3 in 2011 and will be sure to breakout all the stops in order to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole.
The stage is set for a heated showdown this Sunday.