The resurgent Saints (3-4 SU and ATS) try to break a seven-game, regular-season road losing streak when they visit the skidding Panthers (3-4-1 SU and 5-3 ATS) tonight at Bank of America Stadium (8:25 p.m. ET, CBS). New Orleans has covered just once in those seven losses: Week 7, when it fell 24-23 at Detroit as a 1.5-point dog.
But the Saints enter hot after whipping Green Bay 44-23 behind Drew Brees’ perfect second-half performance (11-for-11, 124 yards, 3 touchdowns). The Panthers are 1-4-1 following a 2-0 start and have myriad problems on both sides of the ball. Still, they mostly shut down Seattle on Sunday before giving up a late Russell Wilson touchdown pass to lose.
The Panthers have lost their last two games after tying the Bengals in Cincinnati. First place in the subpar NFC South is at stake.
The Line: Saints -3, Total: 49.5
Line movement: New Orleans was a 1.5-point dog when the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook posted opening lines Sunday night, but after handily beating Green Bay later that evening, the Saints reopened -1.5 on Monday. The line was pushed down to a pick ‘em a few hours later, before it started moving back in New Orleans’ direction and landed on the key number.
The total at William Hill was bet from 49.5 to 48.5, but moved back up to 49 there and was at 49.5 at most shops the morning of the game.
Graham getting closer to old self: Saints tight end Jimmy Graham looked substantially better in his second game back from a shoulder injury and emerged without aggravating the problem. After playing 41 percent of the snaps Week 7 and failing to make a catch, Graham played 62 percent of the snaps against Green Bay and caught five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. He is a total mismatch in the red zone, as he showed on his 22-yard touchdown catch, and should roast the Panthers’ secondary Thursday.
It starts with Cam: The Panthers won’t turn their season around unless quarterback Cam Newton starts to resemble the player he was his first three seasons. Newton has thrown an interception in four straight games and has accounted for seven turnovers this season against nine touchdowns. He posted a 61.0 passer rating in the loss to Seattle and took three sacks in the fourth quarter. On the plus side, Newton does not seem to be favoring his ankle anymore. He’s averaged 12 carries over the past three games.
Saints should ground ‘n pound: Carolina gives up an NFL-high 5.2 yards per carry and ranks 28th in rushing yards allowed (135.3). New Orleans running back Mark Ingram is coming off a career game versus Green Bay in which he ran for 172 yards while averaging 7.2 per carry. The Saints will rely on their elite offensive line to control the game and finally earn a road victory.
Injuries that matter: Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said running back DeAngelo Williams, who’s missed four straight games with an ankle injury, will start Thursday and give the team “a nice boost.” Carolina is averaging a woeful 3.5 yards per carry this season.
The Saints will be without running back Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder), and Khiry Robinson (forearm) is questionable.
Weather: It will be a beautiful night in Charlotte, with clear skies, temperatures in the low 50s and very light winds.
The Linemakers' lean: Despite their shortcomings on the road, the Saints rate 7 points better than Carolina at a neutral site, so laying a short price with them in this spot is enticing. New Orleans features the far better offense, and its defense should fare just fine against a sluggish Panthers offense. Our Kenny White loves New Orleans this week. Saints -3 is the play.