The New Orleans Saints were surprise winners in Week 1 of this NFL season, 38-3 over the favored Green Bay Packers. The Saints opened at -3.5 for Week 2 at the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers, but New Orleans will be missing a few key injured players and potentially several offensive coaches due to COVID.
NFL Saints Dealing With COVID OutbreakLet’s start with the injuries. Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore, a former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, had surgery to fix a chipped bone in his thumb on Tuesday and will miss at least Sunday’s game in Charlotte but probably a few more as well. Lattimore sustained the injury in the first half of the game against the Packers, and returned after missing one defensive series with a cast on his right arm.
Lattimore, 25, had just agreed to a five-year contract extension before the Green Bay game with the deal maxing out near $100 million. The contract makes Lattimore one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league.
Defensive end Marcus Davenport suffered a pectoral strain in Week 1 and also will miss at least Sunday’s game. Davenport, the Saints’ first-round pick in the 2018 draft, had three tackles vs. Green Bay, including a sack of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. However, Davenport left in the third quarter and didn’t return.
That New Orleans defense was fabulous vs. the Packers, allowing just the field goal, one third-down conversion in 10 attempts, 229 yards given up, three turnovers forced and two sacks. Rodgers, last season’s Most Valuable Player, completed 15 of 28 passes for 133 yards, and threw two interceptions.
Center Erik McCoy is dealing with a calf strain that could leave him out for up to five weeks. With McCoy unavailable for most of Sunday’s game, the Saints shifted Cesar Ruiz from guard to snap the football. But the Saints flew in former Chiefs center Austin Reiter for a workout Tuesday. Reiter has been graded very well by Pro Football Focus — they’ve awarded him a season rating of at least 77.5 in each of the last three years, compared to McCoy’s 69.4 grade in 2020 and 78.0 as a rookie in 2019. The Saints’ normal backup center is Will Clapp, but he is currently on the injured reserve with an undisclosed injury.
A new center could affect QB Jameis Winston. He had five TD passes in the win over the Packers. Winston only attempted 20 passes in the game and logged just 148 total yards. That is the lowest yardage output in NFL history (dating back to 1948) for a quarterback that threw for 5-plus touchdowns, besting the previous mark (158) by a full first down.
Finally, the Saints have had eight members of the organization test positive for COVID-19, calling into question their status for Sunday’s game against the Panthers. The total includes six offensive coaches, one player and a nutritionist, according to a source. If they are asymptomatic, vaccinated players and personnel can return when they provide two negative test results 24 hours apart, per NFL protocols. For unvaccinated players — who are tested daily — a positive test results in a minimum absence of 10 days.
It could get worse come Wednesday. The weekly testing protocol for vaccinated players and staff requires the tests to be divided over three days. More could return positive results on Wednesday.
Carolina was a 19-14 winner over the Jets in Week 1. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey recorded nine receptions and 187 scrimmage yards (98 rushing, 89 receiving). McCaffrey has seven career games with at least 75 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards, surpassing Hall of Famer Walter Payton (six games) for the third-most such games in the Super Bowl era. Only Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (11 games) and Priest Holmes (nine) have more.
It appears the Panthers didn’t suffer any major injuries in Week 1. The team has made a change at kicker, though. The Panthers waived kicker Ryan Santoso on Tuesday, ending the experiment with the former Giants kicker after one week of the regular season. Santoso missed an extra point in Sunday’s win over the Jets. By making the change now, the Panthers no longer owe the Giants a seventh-round pick from their preseason trade.
To fill the roster spot, the Panthers signed Zane Gonzalez off the Lions practice squad. Gonzalez is a career 78.0 percent on field goals and 94.6 percent on extra points. He converted 16-of-22 field goals for the Cardinals last year before suffering a season-ending back injury.
Expert Pick: Panthers 24, Saints 23
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