SETTING THE STAGE
WHAT'S ON THE LINE
A Saints win would be their fourth straight after coming within a play of defeating the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers (4-0) in the season opener.
It would also put pressure on the Buccaneers to continue winning tight games just to keep pace with New Orleans while pushing the Panthers into a deeper hole in their quest for a winning season in head coach Ron Rivera's first year.
A Panthers victory over the Saints can bring the team within a game of .500 and within striking distance of the division's elites.
A loss for the Panthers, though, would be frustrating for a team that has shown much promise and improvement over the 2010 version which won only two games all season.
Here's a look at the key stats for both teams so far this season, a look beyond the numbers and my prediction for the game's outcome.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Points Per Game: 31.8 (5th)
Points Allowed Per Game: 24.5 (21st)
Pass / Rush Offense: 335.0 (2nd) / 119.0 (10th)
Pass / Rush Defense: 254.0 (19th) / 94.0 (9th)
Total Offense: 454.0 (2nd)
Total Defense: 348.0 (15th)
Points Per Game: 22.2 (17th)
Points Allowed Per Game: 25.5 (25th)
Pass / Rush Offense: 334.8 (3rd) / 105.2 (17th)
Pass / Rush Defense: 203.0 (6th) / 143.8 (31st)
Total Offense: 440.0 (3rd)
Total Defense: 346.8 (14th)
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Throughout the first quarter of the season, the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints are in a virtual dead heat in both total offense and total defense, with each offense ranked in the top three and the defenses in the middle of the pack.
The glaring statistical difference between these teams is points scored per game, in which the Saints have a definitive edge over the Panthers, outscoring Carolina by nearly 10 points per contest.
Both teams move the ball well between the 20s and each ranks in the lower half in Red Zone scoring efficiency.
The Saints, however, score exactly one more offensive touchdown per game (3.2) than the Panthers (2.2).
Both teams’ passing games are among the most prolific in the league at moving the ball up and down the field, but Brees (120-174/1410 passing yards/10 touchdown passes) has been a much more accurate and productive passer than Newton (97-164/1386 passing yards/5 touchdown passes) so far this season.
The Panthers and Saints have each displayed big-play capability in their passing games thus far; Newton has 25 completions of more than 20 yards in the first four games while Brees has completed 16 passes longer than 20 yards to date.
Special teams could also play a factor in determining the outcome of this game. The Panthers have already given up punt return touchdowns to Arizona's Patrick Peterson and Chicago's Devin Hester this season, and the Saints dress one of the more dangerous returners in Darren Sproles.
This game should be one of the more entertaining and competitive matchups of the afternoon.
The Saints nearly defeated the Packers on the final play of the game in Week 1 and are arguably the second-best NFC team behind Green Bay early in the season.
Expect both offenses to move the ball well against subpar scoring defenses and for both teams to reach the end zone early and often as Brees and Newton each put up big fantasy numbers.
I believe the Saints will jump out to a double-digit lead sometime in the first half and the Panthers will be forced to play catch-up throughout the game.
However, once the Saints achieve this margin, the teams will trade scores throughout the game and the Saints' early lead will allow them to keep the Panthers at arm's length all afternoon.
SAINTS 38, PANTHERS 31