|Saints WR Marques Colston had a rough week last Sunday and will be looking to bounce back against the Panthers. (AP Images)|
Saints at Panthers -- Week 2
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. (grass, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Spread: Saints by 2.5
Forecast: Mostly cloudy, 10 percent chance of rain, high of 79 degrees
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, Carolina 27. Series record: tied at 17, but the Saints have won four in a row and five of the last six.
What matters: Turnovers. The Saints were horrible at forcing turnovers last year, and they did not get any against Washington and rookie QB Robert Griffin III last Sunday. They forced 39 turnovers in the 2009 regular season and eight more in three playoffs games on their way to winning the Super Bowl. That number declined to 25 in 2010 and a woeful 16 last year, with starting safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper combining for zero interceptions. This defense is not good enough to stop Panthers QB Cam Newton without some help, particularly as it learns a new scheme under first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Newton threw two picks in Carolina's 16-10 loss to Tampa Bay last Sunday. He tries to force the ball at times, and the Saints have to capitalize on those opportunities to avoid a repeat of last week's 40-32 loss.
Who matters: DEs Will Smith and Cameron Jordan need to get pressure on Newton, who, despite his athletic ability and size, was sacked 35 times last year. He is vulnerable because he likes to hold on to the ball, waiting to make a play. Jordan was terrific against the Redskins, making a team-high 11 tackles, but he did not have a sack. Smith was largely invisible (four tackles, zero sacks) after missing practice all week before his bounty-related suspension was lifted. MLB Curtis Lofton needs to play faster after a tentative debut in New Orleans while coming off a high-ankle sprain. The Saints brought him in as an upgrade on Jonathan Vilma and his balky knee, but he was not a significant factor against the Redskins. WR Marques Colston needs to bounce back from a subpar performance. Drew Brees targeted him 11 times last Sunday. He caught four passes and fumbled one of those receptions out the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Key matchups: CBs Jabari Greer or Patrick Robinson vs. Carolina WR Steve Smith. Smith has been a Saints killer in the past, but he hasn't had a 100-yard game since Greer arrived in New Orleans in 2009. Greer, though, is questionable with a groin injury. After missing all five preseason games and the regular-season opener, he may be a little rusty if he does play. Robinson has outstanding physical ability but got burned against Washington when he gambled for an interception and watched the ball go over his head for a long gain. Mistakes like that are fatal against Smith. If the Saints keep Smith in check, Carolina could be in trouble because it no longer has a reliable running game. RB Jonathan Stuart is questionable with an ankle injury, and Tampa Bay held DeAngelo Williams to minus-1 yard on six carries.
Injuries of note: WR Devery Henderson (concussion), DE Turk McBride (sprained ankle) and CB Johnny Patrick (right thigh) are out. LB Scott Shanle (knee) and Greer are questionable, but both practiced Friday. Henderson's absence leaves the Saints thin at receiver.
Inside stuff: The Saints offensive linemen graded out well against Washington even though New Orleans rushed for only 32 yards (on 10 attempts). The game plan, down-and-distance due to penalties and an early deficit all contributed to the 52-10 pass/run imbalance. Look for more rushing attempts and considerably more success on the ground against Carolina, which gave up 95 yards on 24 carries to Tampa Bay's Doug Martin.
Connections: Saints TE Jimmy Graham is from Goldsboro, N.C., about a three-hour drive from Charlotte. Secondary coach Ken Flajole was the linebackers coach for Carolina from 2003-08. Saints DT Sedrick Ellis and Panthers C Ryan Kalil were teammates at USC.
Stat you should know: No team has repeated as NFC South champion since the division was created in 2002, and the Saints did nothing in Week 1 to indicate that history will change when they lost to the Redskins. The Saints won the division for the first time in 2006, then went 7-9 in 2007. They won it again in 2009 before finishing two games behind the Falcons in 2010. Carolina won it in 2003 and fell to 7-9 in 2004. The Panthers won it in 2008 and slipped to 8-8 in 2009.
Record watch: The Saints have never started 0-2 and then finished with a winning record. Neither has Carolina. The Saints did make the playoffs in 1990 with an 8-8 mark after losing their first two games.
Bulletin board quote: “This is the National Football League. This isn't Pop Warner. Last year we scored a lot against a lot of people.” -- Graham, when told Carolina players and coaches felt the Saints ran up the score in last year's regular-season finale.
Looking ahead: The Saints play host to Kansas City and travel to Green Bay to close September. The Panthers stay home for a Thursday game against the Giants before traveling to Atlanta in a tough stretch.
Prediction: Saints 27, Panthers 24
Follow Guerry Smith on twitter @CBSSaints.