Saints 34, Panthers 31

Saints vs Panthers 1: Good, bad and ugly

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The Saints moved to 9-2 and the Panthers fall to 5-6. One moves closer to the NFC playoffs, while the other moves towards setting up offseason plans. Here are my observations:

The Good

-It took the offense until the 11th game of the season to score a touchdown on its opening drive. Some of that had to do with Drew Brees missing time, but Brees started several games this season. This team has historically gotten off to a fast start in the Sean Payton/Brees era.

-At the beginning of the 4th quarter, Brees had the same number of incompletitions as touchdown passes: three. Brees ended the day going 29/36 for 295 yards and three touchdowns. As of this writing, he's tied with Tom Brady at 531 career touchdown passes and sits eight behind Peyton Mannings 539.

-Michael Thomas continues to prove why the Saints signed him to a huge deal this past offseason. Another ho-hum day of 10 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. He now has 104 catches for 1242 yards and six touchdowns on the season. He's on pace for 151 catches which would break Marvin Harrison's record of 143.

The Bad

-P.J. Williams gave up a 51-yard touchdown pass to DJ Moore in the 1st quarter. Williams looked as if he was playing cover 2 when he should've been in man or cover 3. I say that based off his and safety Marcus Williams' reaction after the play.

-Cam Jordan got called for an unnecessary roughness penalty when Demario Davis had Kyle Allen sacked on a 3rd down. It went from forcing a punt and the Saints adding to their 17-9 lead, to the Panthers running the clock to zeros and pulling within two points before the half.

-Brees forced a throw deep middle of the field on a Thirrd and10 in the 4th quarter with the team up 31-24 that was picked off. The Panthers turned that into a game-tying touchdown. This was aided by a pass interference call in the end zone. When the offense makes a mistake, the defense can't compound it and vice versa.

The Ugly

-The continued ignoring of the obvious on pass interference reviews is sickening. Jared Cook was called for one that wiped out a 41-yard gain on third and four. Payton challenged the call which the refs inexplicably upheld. Both players had normal downfield hand fighting, but nothing worthy of a flag in the first place. The refs continue to make a mockery of this process but stubbornly refusing to overturn obvious calls. To rub salt in the wound, they decided to call PI in the fourth quarter on a failed Panther third and goal. Both plays had the same amount of contact, one was called, one wasn't.

-Terron Armstead was carted off the field with a left ankle injury. 300-plus pound men carted off with lower leg injuries is one thing. It's a total different story when it's your All Pro/Pro Bowl left tackle. The left side of the offensive line is already missing left guard Andrus Peat (broken arm). Those two injuries are more key when your starting center is a rookie.

-Penalties were an Achilles heel for this team again today with 12 accepted penalties for 123 yards, five of those penalties giving the Panthers a first down. That was about 20% of the Panthers' total first downs in the game. This team will make the playoffs, but won't go very far if they can't stop shooting themselves in the foot.

The Saints needed this game to keep pace with the other top teams in the NFC, and to help lock up the NFC South. They barely scratched out a win. They're now in position to wrap up the division on Thanksgiving Day with a win over the Falcons. However, they're still in the hunt for homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs. They'll be watching the 10-1 49ers and the 9-2 Seahawks battle in the NFC West, as well as keeping an eye on the 8-3 Packers. This team has what it takes to win the NFC, but there's still work to do as far as limiting the stupid mistakes and fine tuning their execution.

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PROBABLE STARTERS

Thurs, Sept. 24 - HOU: Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.33) vs. TEX: Lance Lynn (6-2, 2.53)

Fri, Sept. 25 - HOU: Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78) vs. TEX: Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53)

Sat, Sept. 26 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.87)

Sun, Sept. 27 - HOU: TBD vs. TEX: Jordan Lyles (1-5, 7.07)

STORYLINES

Season finale - The Astros will wrap up their regular season with their four game set in Arlington at the new Globe Life Field. Houston's magic number rests at two, as the Angels still have a puncher's chance. With Houston's miserable 8-20 road record, the postseason is anything but clinched.

Where's the offense? - The Astros offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few weeks, scoring more than three runs just twice in their last ten games. The bats really need to get going, especially if the team expects to do anything in the playoffs. George Springer has been the only reliable bat of late, with the performances of Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, and, most of all, Jose Altuve, leaving a lot to be desired.

Playoff seeding - If the playoffs started today, the Astros would face off with their division rivals in Oakland. There's an infinite number of possibilities over the next four games, but the Astros can see themselves finish anywhere from the fifth seed to out of the playoffs entirely. Any of Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland, Chicago, New York, and Cleveland could be first round foes depending on how the cards fall.

PREDICTION

Lance Lynn has been one of the better pitchers in the game for a few years now, Kyle Cody is an intriguing young arm with good stuff, and Jordan Lyles and Kyle Gibson gave the Astros fits in Houston just last week. It isn't a recipe for success for Houston. The Astros win 1 of 4, which combined with the Angels and Mariners failing to take care of business, is enough to get Houston into the playoffs.

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