September 9, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy (76) and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (92) sack Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) in the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

NFL Week 2: 11th-Hour Notes for Saints at Panthers

Charlotte, NC:

A number of odd things are going on in North Carolina lately. A few days ago, some “mystery illness” has broken out among a couple of defensive linemen. Greg Hardy and Frank Kearse reportedly have some bug going around but I’ve not heard news of it spreading or getting worse, at least. At minimum, Carolina won’t have their full complement of d-lineman, and against a Drew Brees-led team, it’s a problem. Look for Antwan Applewhite or rookie Frank Alexander to take the opportunity and step up to the plate, but it also means a more tired line as the game wears on. Will the pass rush be there today? If so, how will it look in the 4th quarter?

Also in Charlotte, a “replacement” official has been “replaced” for being a Saints fan. Evidence was reported from his Facebook page and although the NFL didn’t come out and say so, they want to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in the officiating right now…especially when they themselves have locked out the regular officials over a “pie” worth about $12 million total.

Remember: it’s all about “player safety,” says league commissioner Roger Goodell.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Roger’s a horrible liar, but that’s another column.

Dec, 24, 2011; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Frank Kearse (99) tries to recover a fumble by Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount (27) in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

I picked the Panthers to win a couple of days ago, but this isn’t a game I’d like to be betting anything on. Week two is probably the most difficult week to pick – other than playoff teams resting/not resting starters in weeks 16 and 17 – because we’ve got JUST enough info (week one’s snapshot) to completely second-guess ourselves. Too many things swirling around to really make a credible call on the Saints – Panthers matchup.

As we saw last week, the Saints were riding an emotional roller coaster due to Bountygate suspensions being lifted (on the players) on Friday – only two days before kickoff. The Saints played flat, RG3 played awesomely, and the upset happened.

While this was going on, a young upstart Tampa Bay squad burst on the scene and proved that they can be a dangerous team out of the gate, defeating the Panthers 16-10.

What we have are two bees’ nests that have just been poked numerous times with a stick.

Whatever the outcome, I think both teams bring their “Sunday best” today. With the Panthers likely wanting to run the ball more this week for several reasons, the key is going to be whoever gets the best from their linemen. To be more narrow, it’ll come down to the Carolina Panthers’ run-blocking ability.

They want to run the ball, control the clock, and minimize possessions for the Saints’ offense. That’s no secret because it’s what everyone wants to do against he, Brady, AR-12, and Peyton Manning. With Carolina’s horrible playcalling and rushing stats from last week, expect extra effort in this phase of the game.

With all the things swirling around in the pregame minutes, if you’re not confused yet then congratulations. I sure am!

Oh – my own odds for the game are “pick ‘em.” At the moment if you twisted my arm and forced me to do so, I’d have to say the Saints by 4. The sick linemen won’t be at full strength even if they play and that could negatively affect the pass rush just enough for Brees to take advantage of things.

Now, on to the game and let’s all hope the “mystery illness” was the 24-hour kind. Distractions sometimes cannot be avoided, and this week has been full of them.

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