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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers

Source: Grant Halverson / Getty

The Panthers are back to where they started the season at quarterback, with Sam Darnold set to start Sunday against the Saints. Coach Matt Rhule says Cam Newton will be ready if needed but did not say either way whether or not the former MVP would play. Darnold and/or Newton will no doubt have their hands full with the Saints, who have lost six of their last eight but still have a slim chance to make the playoffs, so they’ll be bringing their A-game on Sunday. The Panthers continue their downward spiral, they’ve lost five straight and are 5-10 on the season.

The Saints have been having their own quarterback issues. Jameis Winston is out with a torn ACL so Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill have been leading the offense, and last week rookie Ian Book had to start due to a Covid outbreak. The Saints have also been without star receiver Michael Thomas all season. So it’s no surprise the Saints offense has struggled, they’ve have fallen to 31st in the league averaging 302 yards per game. But you certainly can’t count them out when they’ve got one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL in Alvin Kamara. The All-Pro running back is a dual threat who’s picked up nearly 1100 combined rushing and receiving yards with eight touchdowns. “He’s definitely a great player,” said Panther linebacker Jermaine Carter. “He’s a dual threat running back who can catch the ball out of the backfield, you can hand the ball off to him. You’ve got to have eyes on him at all times.”

Kamara’s got some help now, the Saints brought back his former running mate Mark Ingram, he has 554 yards and five touchdowns. They’ll face a Panther defense that still ranks number two in the NFL in total yards allowed but has struggled to stop the run at times, they’re giving up over 118 yards per game, that’s 21st in the league. And several key players could be out due to Covid, including starting linebacker Haason Reddick.

The Saints defense has been doing an excellent job stopping the run, they’re allowing just 95 rushing yards and 20 points a contest, that’s 4th in the NFL. All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan leads the team with eight sacks, Marcus Davenport has seven and a half more and three forced fumbles. The Saints have a pair of outstanding linebackers in All-Pro Demario Davis and Kwon Alexander, and three-time Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins anchors the secondary. Fellow safety Marcus Williams among several Saints that will miss the game due to Covid, but no doubt this defense will cause the Panthers plenty of problems, especially Jordan. “Cam’s a great player,” said Darnold. “He has the ability to wreck a game, so we have to know where he is and do all the things we need to do to get him blocked.”

by Sharon Thorsland