The Panthers swept the Saints in 2008, dominating their intradivisional foe for seven of eight quarters. A fourth quarter defensive meltdown in week 17 nearly cost the Panthers the game and the division crown, but they rallied behind a Jake Delhomme game winning drive to escape the Super Dome with the win.
Offensively, the Saints remain much the same. They still have the best quarterback in the NFL in Drew Brees, and a talented corps of wide receivers in Marques Colston, Lance Moore, and Devery Henderson.
Pierre Thomas is ready to establish himself as the best running back the Saints have had since the heyday of Deuce McAllister, allowing a healthy Reggie Bush to play all over the field and create matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.
The Saints made key additions to their defensive secondary and coaching staff during the offseason. They used their first round draft pick to select Malcolm Jenkins from Ohio State who will likely end up at Safety once the dust has settled in training camp.
The Saints also acquired Jabari Greer in free agency. He played mostly the nickel or dime position in Buffalo before an injury caused him to miss the final six games of the season.
Greer will add more options in a cornerback competition that could be kindly described as "wide open." Between him, Tracy Porter, Randall Gay, and Jason David, there's no one that jumps out immediately as a shut down corner, or even particularly good.
Making the decisions about who starts will be Greg Williams. Williams had great success as a defensive coordinator in Tennessee and at times in Washington, but faltered as a head coach in Buffalo and had middling results last year in Jacksonville.
On offense, the Panthers didn't have much trouble scoring against the Saints in 2008. They scored 63 points in two meetings and produced 829 yards of total offense. DeAngelo Williams was particularly effective, rushing for 244 yards. Jake Delhomme was only sacked twice in the two meetings and didn't throw an interception.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers shut down the potent Saints offense for seven quarters. In the fourth quarter of their second meeting, the Saints scored more than they had against the Panthers during the rest of the year combined. This was due to a number of things, mainly the disintegration of the defensive line due to injury.
In my opinion, to sweep the Saints again in 2009, the Panthers simply need to keep doing what has worked for them. On defense, they showed they could do the job for seven quarters in 2008, and I'm confident in 2009 they'll finish the job.
The Panthers have historically been able to get pressure on Brees during his time in New Orleans. One has to assume they'll do better at that with new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks stating publicly he wants to emphasize generating pressure.
Of course the best way to stop the Saints' offense is to keep them off the field. The Panthers ground game dominated New Orleans in 2008, and the Saints haven't made any notable additions to their defensive front seven. If Jake Delhomme can avoid any more January style meltdowns, the the running game should be able to mow down the Saints defense like grass.