8:30 PM ET, December 8, 2013
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA
The Carolina Panthers can become the second team in the NFL to win nine straight games this season. Doing so will require them to hand the New Orleans Saints their first home loss of 2013 on Sunday night, with the winner taking control of the NFC South.
"There is no roof, no sky," Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy said. "We're going up. Every person on this team, every coach on this team has the same mentality right now. I feel like it's contagious. Fans are getting it. They feel like they can't be beat."
This matchup of the two 9-3 teams in the South is the first of two in a three-week span.
After Sunday's 27-6 win over Tampa Bay, which had won three straight, the Panthers will match their stingy defense against Drew Brees and New Orleans' high-powered attack. Carolina is allowing a league-low 13.1 points per game and 289.8 yards, second best in the NFL.
The Saints haven't lost consecutive games in a single regular season under coach Sean Payton since 2009, but they're looking vulnerable after a 34-7 rout at Seattle on Monday.
"It's a setback and now you're on a short week, but we have to make the corrections," Payton said. "We can't just say it didn't happen. But that being said, we have to quickly get focused on Carolina. They're playing as good football as anybody in the league right now."
That short week got even shorter due to a delay with the Saints' charter flight that forced them to stay over in Seattle on Monday. New Orleans didn't get home until after 3 p.m. local time Tuesday, nearly 12 hours after they had planned to return.
The Panthers have won four straight on the road and were the last team to beat New Orleans at the Superdome, 44-38 on Dec. 20. The Saints have outscored opponents 199-95 during their six home victories this year.
Carolina beat the Saints twice last year after losing the previous four matchups.
As good as Carolina has been defensively, coach Ron Rivera knows his team is in for a challenge in holding down New Orleans at home.
"There are a lot of things they're doing offensively that make you say, 'Wow,'" Rivera told the team's official website. "A lot of people thought last year that Jimmy Graham had an off-year, but now watching him he looks like he's in the form he was two years ago. Darren Sproles, I've got a bottle of Tums next to me because he is a heck of a football player. And Drew Brees is having a classic Drew Brees season."
The Seahawks, however, showed it's possible to shut the Saints down. Their seven points matched the fewest they've scored since Payton took over in 2006, while their 188 total yards are the fewest in that time.
Brees' 147 passing yards was his lowest total in a complete game since throwing for 132 on Dec. 24, 2006 against the New York Giants.
Both of those games were on the road, though Brees said Monday's embarrassment had very little to do with location.
"The weather did not play a factor. The noise? It's loud, yes, it's tough to communicate ... but I felt like we did a good job communicating," Brees said. "We were prepared for that. We just got outplayed."
Brees has cracked 300 yards in each of the six home games this season, with 19 touchdowns and three interceptions. His 122.2 home passer rating is second in the league to that of Aaron Rodgers.
New Orleans is averaging 33.2 points at home, trailing only Denver and Dallas.
Carolina's Cam Newton went 18 of 29 for 263 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Bucs. He ran for another, but was displeased with the picks after throwing four in his previous seven games.
The team has turned the ball over seven times in the last eight games and is one of five teams with a plus-10 turnover margin or better.
"We don't want to get accustomed to the careless mistakes, but we're just going to have games like this," Newton said. "We know that we're going to have to minimize these turnovers."
That's especially true against New Orleans, which has given the ball away 14 times, among the lowest totals in the league.
The Panthers will have top pass rusher Charles Johnson back after he missed the last two games with a sprained knee. The defensive end leads the team with 8 1/2 sacks and had two in the clubs' last meeting.
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New Orleans Saints
|Avg Points Allowed||14.5||18.7|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||CAR|
|Rush Yds Allowed||CAR|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Carolina leads 14-12|
|Dec 30, 2012||CAR 44, @NO 38|
|Sep 16, 2012||CAR 35, NO 27|
|Jan 1, 2012||CAR 17, @NO 45|
|Oct 9, 2011||CAR 27, NO 30|
|Nov 7, 2010||CAR 3, NO 34|
|Oct 3, 2010||CAR 14, @NO 16|
|Jan 3, 2010||CAR 23, NO 10|
|Nov 8, 2009||CAR 20, @NO 30|
|Dec 28, 2008||CAR 33, @NO 31|
|Oct 19, 2008||CAR 30, NO 7|
|Nov 25, 2007||CAR 6, NO 31|
|Oct 7, 2007||CAR 16, @NO 13|
|Dec 31, 2006||CAR 31, @NO 21|
|Oct 1, 2006||CAR 21, NO 18|
|Dec 18, 2005||CAR 27, @NO 10|
|Sep 11, 2005||CAR 20, NO 23|
|Jan 2, 2005||CAR 18, NO 21|
|Dec 5, 2004||CAR 32, @NO 21|
|Oct 26, 2003||CAR 23, @NO 20|
|Oct 5, 2003||CAR 19, NO 13|
|Dec 29, 2002||CAR 10, @NO 6|
|Nov 10, 2002||CAR 24, NO 34|
|Dec 2, 2001||CAR 23, @NO 27|
|Oct 14, 2001||CAR 25, NO 27|
In divisional games in the last two seasons, only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers have a higher Total QBR than Cam Newton. After going 2-4 against the NFC South in his rookie season, Newton is 6-3 in divisional games in the last two seasons (and 3-0 this season).[+]
Drew Brees was 22-of-26 (85%) against four or fewer pass rushers Sunday, the highest completion percentage the Panthers have allowed in a game in the last six seasons when sending standard pressure. The Panthers allowed three touchdowns when sending a standard pass rush; they had allowed a league-low five touchdowns against such pressure entering the game. - Brees was 7-of-9 with two touchdowns against standard pressure when targeting Marques Colston.[+]
Panthers Pass Defense With 4 or Fewer Rushers, 2013
Drew Brees completed 67% of his passes that traveled 15 or more yards downfield Sunday. Last week against the Seahawks, Brees didn't complete a deep pass for the second time since 2006. - Cam Newton was 1-of-5 on passes traveling 15+ yards downfield. He has completed more than two deep passes in only one game this season. Last year, he completed at least three deep passes in 12 games.[+]
Drew Brees Passing 15+ Yds Downfield, Last 2 Gms
The last time the Panthers defense allowed at least 21 points in the 1st half: Week 17 of 2011 (allowed 24 points - also at Saints).
ESPN Stats & Information