Three games on the NFL Week 2 calendar feature two 1-0 teams, and that includes the first NFC South showdown of 2021. The Saints at Panthers, 49ers at Eagles, and Raiders at Steelers are the three matchups of the early 'undefeated' through the first week of the NFL season. New Orleans and Carolina meet for the 54th time in history, with one of those including the Wild Card playoff game in the 2017 season.
Sean Payton's squad opted for the shock and awe routine against the Packers, while Matt Rhule's team knocked off the Jets. It's weird seeing this road game so early in the season, as it has been a familiar way to end the regular season. Here's a few things we will be looking for when these two meet.
What to Watch For
Defending against Christian McCaffrey. He's a huge part of what the Panthers offense does, and he got it done on the ground and in the receiving department on Sunday against the Jets. The only thing missing from his performance was getting into the end zone. This will be the 7th time that McCaffrey faces the Saints, and his highest rushing total is 64 (2019) and his highest receiving total is 101 (2017). Overall, New Orleans has done a pretty good job defending against him. However, this will obviously be a key matchup for the Sam Darnold-led offense.
A Winston Encore? Jameis Winston silenced a lot of critics in his first outing with the Saints. In fact, he became the fourth Saints quarterback in franchise history to have 4 or more passing touchdowns in a game, joining Drew Brees, Aaron Brooks, and Billy Kilmer. Zach Wilson was sacked six times in Week 1, and Winston has already tipped his hat to the Panthers pass rush. Overall, Wilson finished 20-of-37 for 258 yards with 2 touchdowns and a pick. For Winston, he doesn't have to be what he was against the Packers, but seeing the Panthers stack the box to stop the run could help him have a strong outing in Carolina.
Injury front and availability. The Saints are dealing with a host of injuries, and it's just the second week. 10 players were on the team's first injury report of Week 2, with some expected like Erik McCoy (calf), Marcus Davenport (pec), and Marshon Lattimore (thumb surgery). What wasn't expected were players like Kwon Alexander (elbow) and Tanoh Kpassagnon (calf). C.J. Gardner-Johnson (knee) is another to pay attention to.
New Orleans is already without the likes of Michael Thomas, David Onyemata, Wil Lutz, Will Clapp, and Nick Vannett, and they did a great job in their season opener without them. Hopefully, the pass rush gets Payton Turner back this week to make his season debut, and Zack Baun could be a solid fill-in if Alexanders misses. At corner, this is a huge week for Bradley Roby to get up to speed, but we could see Desmond Trufant starting opposite of Paulson Adebo if Lattimore cannot go.
How the Saints respond. Some have already chalked Green Bay's performance up to a host of excuses, even though New Orleans didn't have a third preseason game (crazy, Arizona didn't either and look how they did), were forced to move operations to Dallas, and couldn't even play in the Superdome the first week. In the same breath, others are jumping on the Saints bandwagon quickly and throwing hot takes in every direction.
Sean Payton did a great job motivating his team and preparing them for Week 1, and it's hard to suggest them hitting a wall on Sunday against the Panthers in their first NFC South game of the season. While it will undoubtedly be tougher, the Saints should still have a strong game and be able to get this one. Of course, we're all waiting to see that happen before we look to an interesting meeting in Foxboo.
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