NFL: DEC 22 Panthers at Colts
Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers will reportedly have to play their fifth game without superstar running back Christian McCaffrey this week. On Tuesday, Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reported that McCaffrey is not likely to play on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints due to his high ankle sprain, but he is close to returning to the field. Carolina will reportedly err on the side of caution here in Week 7, since the Panthers are scheduled to take on another divisional opponent in the Atlanta Falcons on a short week next Thursday.

The former No. 8 overall pick suffered an ankle injury during the Panthers' Week 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it was an issue that we knew was going to knock him out for several weeks. The Panthers surprisingly won their first few games after McCaffrey was sidelined with his injury, and have gone a total of 3-1 with Mike Davis as the starter.

Davis, who was claimed off of waivers by Carolina after being released by the Chicago Bears 11 months ago, has rushed 63 times for 271 yards and two touchdowns in his last four starts, and has also caught 24 passes for 135 yards and two more scores. He's been effective as the Panthers' lead back, but McCaffrey is sorely missed in this offense. 

Due to Carolina's 23-16 loss to the Bears on Sunday, the Panthers find themselves in third place in the NFC South with a 3-3 record. They have a chance to move into second place ahead of the Saints with a win on Sunday, but Drew Brees and Co. are riding a two-game win streak and are also coming off of a bye week. It appears McCaffrey will have a good shot to return to the starting lineup against the Falcons in Week 8, but Carolina clearly wants to be careful with how they handle his return since they are set to play two games in five days.