SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Charles Davis, Jim Mora
PREDICTION: Saints 35-17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
FAST FACTS: With one more win, coach John Fox will be assured a winning career record in Carolina. He is 72-63 with nine games to play.
Saints FS Darren Sharper has 71 total takeaways in his career, including 63 interceptions.
The Saints are now 7-1 in the game after Drew Brees throws three or more interceptions. He threw four picks in a Week 7 setback to the Cleveland Browns, then rebounded to complete 34 of 44 passes for 305 yards with two TDs and one interception and had a passer rating of 101.0. In those eight games, Brees had compiled a passer rating of at least 99.0 on six occasions.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Saints, who have been trying to just get to their bye week in order to get back several injured players, got some good news Thursday -- three days before the final game prior to the bye.
When they go against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday in Bank of America Stadium, coach Sean Payton will have both of his starting cornerbacks on the field for the first time since a Week 4 matchup with the Panthers in New Orleans.
Payton said Thursday that Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter both participated fully in practice and would play on Sunday against the Panthers in a game the Saints (5-3) cannot afford to lose.
It was the first time since Greer hurt his left shoulder in an Oct. 17 game with the Tampa Bay Bucs, which forced him to miss the last two games, that he has practiced fully. Porter, who has been sidelined for the last four games after having arthroscopic knee surgery, had full participation Wednesday.
"He practiced and took all the snaps today," Payton said of Greer. "The joint is strong and I'm encouraged with where he's at. I think he's going to play. It would be hard to be full today and not be involved (in the game)."
Their return is good news for Payton because the Saints played all but the first play of Sunday night's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers with one true cornerback after rookie Patrick Robinson left with a high-ankle sprain. Leigh Torrence and free safety Malcolm Jenkins played the rest of the game at the corner positions.
Robinson hasn't practiced the last two days and is unlikely to play against the Panthers.
Working Thursday on a limited basis for the first time in six weeks was running back Reggie Bush, who has been sidelined since Sept. 20 with a fractured right fibula. His status for Sunday was not known, but Payton seemed to be leaning to holding him out.
"He's still not moving the way you'd like, but I think he's making a lot of progress quickly," Payton said. "Each day, we try to give him more to do. More than anything, it's still getting to where he's real confident and comfortable planting and driving off of that leg."
LB Jon Beason
The main reason is Beason's change in positions, having gone from playing middle linebacker to weak side linebacker this past offseason following a knee injury to Thomas Davis.
"There's no doubt he feels more comfortable at Mike," coach John Fox said. "It's a position he's played and went to a Pro Bowl playing. But being a team guy he's made the move to Will, and I think he's continuing to improve there."
Beason has no interceptions, no forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries.
He's not even leading the Panthers in tackles.
For Beason the unselfish voluntary transition from middle linebacker to weak side linebacker to help his team out has certainly been one that has tested his patience -- especially given the team's 1-6 start -- even though Beason hasn't complained at all.
For the season, Beason has 70 tackles, which is second on the team behind James Anderson, but his only other stats are two pass breakups and one quarterback pressure.
He's not had a hand in a turnover.
By comparison, Beason finished last season with 169 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries while playing at middle linebacker. But he agreed to move positions earlier this offseason when Thomas Davis tore the ACL in his knee a second time, even though he knew at the time he would be miscast as a weak side linebacker.
"Moving from middle to outside linebacker has definitely been hard on me because I know I have the ability to dominate a game," Beason wrote Wednesday in a blog on his website. "...Personally, I have yet to make the big play that I think so many people are accustomed to seeing from me.
"It's not from lack of effort. I just have to find a way to ensure that when the opportunity comes, I find a way to take advantage of it and give my team a better opportunity to win the game."
However, Beason is still making his presence felt in other ways.
The Panthers rank fourth-best in the league in total yards allowed per game and third-best in total yards allowed per play.
"I think for the most part I've done a decent job of filling in," Beason said after Sunday's loss to St. Louis. "And I think Dan Connor's done a great job of playing the Mike (middle linebacker), and James (Anderson) has played lights out."
Still, it's pretty clear Beason is anxious for Davis to return to the starting lineup so he can move back to his more comfortable spot in the middle, which allows him to use his instincts and run the field from side to side.
"The thing I do well -- and the thing that is my knock -- is I try to do more than is expected of me," Beason said. "I'll sacrifice what I think my instincts are versus just doing my job. Sometimes it gets me in trouble and sometimes it helps me make the big play. I think when you're at the Mike (middle linebacker) you have more leeway to do that. When you're outside you have to be very disciplined."
--RT Jon Stinchcomb, who has started 77 consecutive games, missed his second straight practice Thursday with swelling and soreness in his knee and his status for Sunday's game with the Carolina Panthers was unknown.
--RT Zach Strief, a five-year veteran, again took the snaps with the first-team offense in Jon Stinchcomb's place during Thursday's practice.
--RCB Patrick Robinson did not work again Thursday because of a high-ankle sprain and his status for this week's game was not known.
--RB Pierre Thomas continues to be out with a sprained left ankle that has kept him out of the last five games and did not practice again Thursday.
--RB Reggie Bush, who has been sidelined for six games with a fractured right fibula, practiced on a limited basis Thursday for the first time, but it wasn't immediately known if he'll be able to play Sunday.
--SS Pierson Prioleau, who has an ankle injury, was able to work on a limited basis Thursday and his availability for Sunday's game was not known.
--LCB Jabari Greer, who has missed two games with a left shoulder injury, worked fully Thursday for the first time since being hurt and coach Sean Payton said he'll play Sunday against the Panthers.
--WR Marques Colston had full participation in practice Thursday despite an injured right hand that had him limited Wednesday.
--RCB Tracy Porter again had full participation in Thursday's practice and will play Sunday after missing the last four games following arthroscopic knee surgery.
--PK Garrett Hartley returned to practice Thursday after resting his ailing right (kicking) ankle and shin Wednesday. Coach Sean Payton said Garrett should be able to play Sunday, but likely won't kick off.
--C Jonathan Goodwin, who has been battling a groin injury, participated fully in Thursday's practice again.
--WLB Scott Shanle, who played last week after missing two games with a strained hamstring, worked full again in practice on Thursday.
--RB Chris Ivory, who suffered a mild concussion in Sunday's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, had full participation again Thursday.
--RB DeAngelo Williams did not practice Thursday and will not play in Sunday's game against the Saints.
--RB Jonathan Stewart is expected to make his second straight start Sunday against the Saints. Stewart was limited to 30 yards on 14 carries last week.
--LB Dan Connor practiced full Thursday after being limited the day before in practice with a hip contusion.
--CB Captain Munnerlyn and the Panthers defense limited the Saints to 16 points -- one touchdown and three field goals -- in the last meeting, but still lost 16-14.
--LB Jason Williams joined the Panthers at practice after being claimed off waivers. "He's a good athlete, probably a little bit more of a Will type of position. Once he gets indoctrinated into our stuff, he should be a good (special) teams player and piecemeal getting caught up on the defense the second half of the season," coach John Fox said.