Five Things To Look For Week 17

Week 17 is finally upon us..For most teams, it’s the last game of the season, either a chance to regroup and look forward to things to come or sigh at what was a disappointing campaign this season was.

The same is true for both the Saints and  Panthers. For the Saints, this week’s game is a chance to regroup, refocus and put together momentum heading into the playoffs. They  have already assured themselves of Dome field advantage through the NFC playoffs and the best record in franchise history. But, the magic of this past season has lost some of its luster after two straight losses, including a rather embarrassing  20-17 defeat against the Tampa Bay Bucs.

The Panthers are playing their best football of the season after a slow start to the 2009 season. They have strung together impressive blowouts of the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants the last couple of weeks. DE Julius Peppers is playing like an All-Pro again. Jonathan Stewart and the Panthers’ run game is running all over opponents and QB Matt Moore is throwing the ball effectively. While the Panthers lost a chance at a playoff spot weeks ago, this team has too much pride and wants to prove they belong in the league’s elite again.

This Sunday’s game in Charlotte  seems meaningless on paper, but don’t let that fool you. Both teams are out to win.

Here’s what to look for in this week’s game..

1. How will Saints K Garret Hartley rebound after last week’s game?

Despite missing a potential game winning field goal last week against Tampa, Hartley has not lost Coach Sean  Payton’s confidence. That’s good news for Hartley, knowing the revolving door the Saints have had at the kicker position the last few seasons.

Payton expressed his confidence in Hartley in his Monday press conference, calling Hartley a “pretty tough minded kid” and liking his reaction after the kick, very well knowing his number may be called again.

Hartley has made 21 of 23 field goals on the season. His other miss was a long 58 yard attempt at the end of regulation against the Redskins.

2. Can the Saints offense get back in a rhythm after last week’s performance?

The Saints’ offense sputtered after a fast start last week, producing no point in the game’s final  36 minutes. Promising drives stalled  after falling one yard short on a couple of third downs and a Marques Colston fumble in the fourth quarter.The Saints offense has also scored 34 points in the past two weeks alone after scoring that many per game all season.

The Saints’ running game got back on track after dissappearing the previous couple of weeks. Pierre Thomas led the team last week with 60 yards on 6 carries before leaving the game with a rib injury. Overall, the Saints finished with 124 yards on 23 carries.

While Drew Brees did have a good game on paper last week, the Bucs did not allow Brees the deep ball. He finished the game completing 32 of 37 passes for 258 yards but mostly on short passes. His receivers failed to pick up first downs on drives as the Saints offense stalled.

While it would be nice to see the Saints offense back in its element this week  against Carolina, that is very unlikely because…..

3.Who is playing for the Saints this week?

The inactive list for this week almost seems like the starting roster. Not really, but several key players for the Saints will be out this week.

Drew Brees is listed as the third quarterback for the Saints this week, meaning Mark Brunell gets the start for the Saints, with Chase Daniel the primary back up. Barring any more incompletions this week, Brees will set the NFL record for best completion percentage (70.6%) in a season.

TE Dave Thomas (calf) and S Darren Sharper (knee) are also out for Sunday’s game and did not make the trip to Carolina with the team. RB Pierre Thomas is nursing his injured ribs and will not play. Joining them on the inactive list are S Usama Young (abdomen)and  WR Lance Moore (ankle).

Several other key Saints players are questionable for Sunday’s game as well. TE Jeremy Shockey continues to battle a turf toe injury which has gotten better in the last couple of weeks. DT Sedrick Ellis (knee) and DE Bobby McCray (back) are questionable, along with G Jahri Evans (hand) and LB Jonathan Vilma (knee).
Scott Shanle is doubtful for Sunday’s game due to the lingering effects of a concussion he suffered in the Dallas game.

On a positive note, it looks like CB Jabari Greer will get his first action in over two months this week. Greer, the Saints’ shutdown corner during the first half of the season, is recovering from a groin injury and  sports hernia surgery.

Love it or hate it, I agree with Coach Payton’s decision to rest several key  starters. The Saints need all their weapons healthy on both sides of the ball to make a run to Miami and the Super Bowl.

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One Response to “Five Things To Look For Week 17”

  1. Randall Walker says:

    I think this is a bddddd decision to lose one more game before playoffs and Sean Payton knew it. I thin its unfair for the fans and unfair to every ticket holder to sell out like the saints have done the last 4 games including today. I would venture to say no super bowl this year just fom what we have seen the last 4-5 weeks and Peyton can’t and don’t know how to fix it. Good try poor coaching NFL is Not for Long after Sean Peyton loses in the playoffs again. BYE BYE Sean Peyton

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