|Cam Newton had a 300-yard passing game in Week 1 but career lows in rushing attempts and yards. (US Presswire)|
Saints at Panthers -- Week 2
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC. (grass, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Spread: Saints by 3
Forecast: Isolated thunderstorms, high-70s
Records: Saints (Overall: 0-1, NFC South: 0-0); Panthers (Overall: 0-1, NFC South: 0-1)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Jan. 1, 2012: Saints 45, Panthers 17; Oct. 9, 2011: Saints 30, Panthers 27. Series record: The teams have split the 34 games between them, but the Saints have won four straight.
What matters: Both teams are looking to bounce back from distracted, disappointing losses in Week 1. The Panthers were forced to vacate Charlotte early, due to the Democratic National Convention, and ended nearly a week in Tampa with a 16-10 loss to the Buccaneers. Playing their first game without suspended coach Sean Payton, and with the suspensions of several defensive players lifted the day before the game, the Saints lost 40-32 to the Washington Redskins. Carolina and New Orleans struggled on offense. Saints QB Drew Brees had a completion percentage of 46.2, the first time in six years he's completed fewer than half his passes. Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams rushed for minus-1 yard. Carolina and New Orleans combined to have the ball for just more than 43 of the 120 minutes they played in Week 1, and the teams combined for 44 rushing yards. Both teams have star quarterbacks leading explosive offenses, and they'll look to get them back on track in Week 2.
Who matters: QB Cam Newton's passing numbers were strong for the Panthers. He had 303 yards, a 69.7 completion percentage, and threw a TD pass. But he rushed five times for four yards -- both career lows for a quarterback who's considered as dangerous with his legs as with his arm. He'll probably be looking for opportunities to run against a Saints defense that struggled to contained dual-threat QB Robert Griffin III last week. Nickelback Captain Munnerlyn had two passes defended against Tampa Bay, but he also had a costly penalty on punt coverage that set up a field goal by the Bucs. He'll be on the field most of the game, as Brees tries to spread the ball around to his receivers, and he'll need to avoid the big mistake. For the Saints, TE Jimmy Graham had 16 catches for 226 yards in the two games against Carolina last year, and Marques Colston had 12 catches for 216. The Panthers think they've upgraded their linebackers and secondary. CB Jabari Greer should return from a hernia that kept him out of the Saints' opener. His presence will help a secondary that was torched by a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut.
Key matchups: Panthers linebackers Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason vs. Graham. Kuechly had seven tackles in the opener, which would be good for most NFL debuts, but it was far below the level Kuechly set in college and during the preseason. Beason got his first action in a year after returning from a knee injury. They'll both need to excel on pass defense as Graham looks for holes in the middle. Saints DT Sedrick Ellis vs. LG Amini Silatolu. Carolina's rookie offensive lineman was solid throughout the preseason, but he struggled in the first game that counted. A false start short-circuited a Panthers drive in the final minutes of the first half, and a costly holding penalty wiped out a first down late in the game. He'll need to generate a push against the center of the Saints line to help Carolina's running game rebound from last week's dismal showing. Saints WRs Marques Colston and Lance Moore vs. CB Josh Norman. Another Panthers rookie will be on the hot seat, as Norman will face a tandem that combined for 10 catches and 191 yards last week. Norman had an early coverage blunder against Tampa that prolonged the Bucs' 80-yard TD drive to open the game, but he settled down for the remainder of the game.
Injuries of note: RB Jonathan Stewart has been practicing for the Panthers, but WR Steve Smith has worn a knee brace after getting hit on the right knee in Sunday's game. Saints WR Devery Henderson hasn't practiced after suffering a concussion. LB Scott Shanle has been limited with a knee injury, an injury that's magnified, since the Saints are already without Jonathan Vilma, who's on PUP.
Inside stuff: Newton overthrew Steve Smith twice on Sunday, perhaps an indication that Smith's infected foot was still affecting his route running. Tampa defenders were credited with pass defenses on three of Newton's 10 incompletions, and Washington only had five defenses on Brees' 28 incompletions, meaning that Newton was trying to squeeze the ball into coverage. Brees had four balls batted down and threw away three passes to avoid pressure. The Saints line will have to give him more of a pocket on Sunday.
Connections: Panthers OL coach John Matsko coached the Saints' line from 1994 to 1996. Saints secondary coach Ken Flajole was the Panthers LBs coach from 2003 to 2008.
Stat you should know: The Panthers led the league in big plays last season, with 90 plays of at least 20 yards. In the season opener, they picked up where they left off, with seven big plays. But nearly half their plays were for negative or zero yards, creating a feast-or-famine offense against Tampa Bay. The Saints led the league with 28 touchdown drives of 80 yards or more last season. They had two in the opening game against Washington.
Record watch: Brees has an NFL-record eight straight games with 300 yards passing and 44 straight games with a touchdown pass, which is second all-time. Newton's next 300-yard passing game will tie Kerry Collins for the Panthers' team record.
Bulletin board quote: Panthers coach Ron Rivera on the Saints running up the score last season: "It's a philosophy. It's an attitude. And that's what (Saints coach Sean Payton's) is. So he coaches that way and they play that way. My attitude and my philosophy is win the football game, and then be smart about the next week. That's just the way I look at it -- a difference in philosophy."
Looking ahead: The Panthers have a short week. The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants visit for a Thursday night game, giving Carolina games against two of the past three Super Bowl winners in a five-day span.
Prediction: Saints 27, Panthers 20
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Carolina Panthers from blogger Shawn Krest, follow @CBSPanthers.