KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers' offense has sputtered when it counted most in losses to Arizona, Chicago and Green Bay. But keeping it close into the fourth quarter against Saints is priority No. 1. Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski called a more balanced game last week and needs to lean on RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to protect Carolina's injury-ravaged defense that will be severely outmanned. Saints QB Drew Brees was sacked three times behind a patchwork offensive line last week. But the Panthers have just six sacks all season and Saints RB Darren Sproles is tied for third in the NFL with 26 receptions as Brees' safety valve under pressure.
FAST FACTS: Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 31 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in NFL history. ... DEs Charles Johnson (4.0) and Greg Hardy (2.0) have accounted for all of Carolina's sacks.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
As the backup to Drew Brees, Saints quarterback Chase Daniel doesn't get a lot of work on game day -- with the exception of serving as the holder for John Kasay's extra points and field-goal attempts.
But Daniel, a third-year pro, is playing a very important role in practice this week as the Saints prepare for Sunday's game with the Panthers in Bank of America Stadium.
Working with the scout squad, Daniel is doing his best to imitate Panthers rookie sensation Cam Newton for the Saints' first-team defense as New Orleans prepares for its first meeting with the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner.
Saints coach Sean Payton said Daniel has studied Newton's mannerisms and tries to emulate everything the former Auburn star does, right down to breaking the huddle.
"Chase will look at the film and he'll try to approach the center in a very similar fashion," Payton said. "He'll try to look at the shotgun depths, where the launch points are, and there will be plays where we ask him to flush and force our guys to extend the play and get used to the play being broken."
Newton, who's already thrown for 1,386 yards and rushed for 133, is the focal point of an improved Carolina offense that ranks third in the NFL with 440.0 yards a game. While the role includes some extra film study for Daniel, he doesn't mind.
"I love it, it's fun," he said. "I get to zone-read like back in my college days at Missouri, and run around and throw the ball. So it's good, it's good stuff. I'm obviously not as fast and quick as him, but I try to give them the best look I possibly can."
In addition to speed, there is one other area in which Daniel doesn't measure up -- height. Newton stands 6-foot-5 inches, while Daniel is listed at 6 feet.
A smiling Payton noted there's nothing the team can do about that, saying, "We can't go sign a 6-6 practice squad quarterback."
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he expects to have tight end Jeremy Shockey and offensive linemen Jeff Otah and Geoff Hangartner available for Sunday's game against New Orleans.
All three had missed practice Wednesday.
Shockey (concussion) returned to work Thursday on a limited basis and will start if cleared by an independent doctor, while Otah and Hangartner practiced in full Thursday.
"This game can't come fast enough for me," said Shockey, who was cut by New Orleans in the offseason after spending three seasons there and helping the Saints win a Super Bowl.
"I have a lot of respect for everyone in that organization, but that was first time I have ever been cut or released in my life, so I'm not going to sit here and say I don't have a bitter taste in my mouth about being pushed off to side and being told, 'See you, good luck.'"
Saints coach Sean Payton called Shockey one of his favorite players during a conference call with reporters.
When told of Payton's comments, Shockey smiled and said, "If I was one of his favorite players, I might still be there."
Shockey said he's plenty motivated to play against the Saints.
"It's a business," he said. "I know that. I don't hold anything personal -- not that long. But I do hold things personal."
Shockey has started all four games for the Panthers this season and has 11 receptions for 178 yards. He had a 22-yard touchdown reception against the Bears last Sunday wiped out because of a pass interference penalty.