GAME SNAPSHOTKICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Carter Blackburn, Tim Green
SERIES: 21st meeting. The series is tied, 10-10, with the Saints ending a four-game losing streak with a 21-18 win in Charlotte in the 2004 season finale on Jan. 2. The Saints have won four of the last five games at Bank of America Stadium.
2004 rankings: Saints: offense 15th (27th rush, 12th pass); defense 32nd (30th rush, 27th pass). Panthers: offense 13th (28th rush, 9th pass); defense 20th (17th rush, 18th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints want to lean more on their running game this season, and there's no better team to start against than Carolina. RB Deuce McAllister has rushed for 100 yards in four of the last five meetings, and his ability to hit that mark again will be pivotal. New Orleans gets in trouble when QB Aaron Brooks gets in long passing situations with his propensity to fumble when hit, and the Panthers have one of the best pass rushes in the league. The Panthers have a lot of potential offensively, but integral parts WR Steve Smith and RB Stephen Davis are both coming off serious injuries. Running the ball is especially key after Panthers QB Jake Delhomme was sacked five times by Saints defensive ends in the 2004 season finale.
FAST FACTS: Saints: Jim Haslett's 24-16 (.600) road record is second-best among active coaches behind only Philadelphia's Andy Reid (32-16, .667). ... Have won four of their past five games in Carolina. Panthers: Defense forced 29 turnovers in the final eight games last season. ... DE Mike Rucker has 40 career sacks and needs two sacks to break Kevin Greene's club record (41.5)
--RG Jermane Mayberry, who missed the final exhibition game with a strained left calf, practiced with the first-team offense this week should play Sunday at Carolina.
--DT Brian Young is expecting to play Sunday after being sidelined for 2 1/2 weeks with a sprained left knee. Young wore a brace on the knee in practice this week and appeared to be fine.
--SLB James Allen resumed practice after missing all four exhibition games because of a bone bruise in his left knee. Allen got through practice this week, but is listed as questionable for Sunday.
--WR Az-Zahir Hakim, who missed more than three weeks of work with a right hamstring injury, practiced again Thursday and is listed as questionable for the Panthers' game.
--WLB T.J. Slaughter returned to practice at midweek following a hamstring injury. He remains is questionable for Sunday.
--TE Zach Hilton has a shoulder injury, but he was able to practice Wednesday and Thursday is listed as questionable for the game with the Panthers.
--TE Shad Meier, who had a setback in late August after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, will not play Sunday against the Panthers.
--MLB Alfred Fincher had surgery on the fourth metacarpal of his right hand on Aug. 27 and will be sidelined this week because his hand is still in a cast.
--DE Julius Peppers (ankle) has been upgraded from questionable to probable for Sunday's game against the Saints. Peppers has a favorable matchup against rookie right tackle Jammal Brown.
--SLB Brandon Short has recovered nicely from surgery on a torn plantar fascia and has been upgraded from questionable to probable for Sunday's game. Short has practiced all week and is likely to start over Chris Draft.
--RB Stephen Davis continues to work with the first team on offense and will likely start, but it's unclear at this point how many carries he'll get.
--CB Ken Lucas will have a tough time on Sunday keeping up with Joe Horn, who has tormented the Panthers for years.
--WR Steve Smith should see plenty of balls thrown his way.
--DT Kris Jenkins is anxious to try out his surgically repaired shoulder against the Saints.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:Saints:
As can be expected, the Saints' front office has a lot on its plate as the team considers where to play its home games this season - and maybe beyond, as the Superdome might have to be taken down.
The NFL has already moved next week's game with the New York Giants, which was supposed to be the Saints' home opener, to the Meadowlands and switched it to Sept. 19.
The next home game, on Oct. 2 against Buffalo, is still up in the air, as are the other six games that were supposed to be played at the Superdome. Logical sites would be San Antonio, where the Saints will practice for the rest of the season, and LSU's 92,000-seat Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.
After that hurdle comes the long-term. An early assessment of the Superdome on Wednesday shows that the building that has hosted more Super Bowls than any other stadium (six) received more damage than what most people have seen on TV.
Over the next few months, Gov. Kathleen Blanco will have to decide whether to invest at least $100 million for repairs or raze it.
Considering that the building became the symbol of government's failure to provide adequate relief to storm victims, the latter might be its fate.
The damage left by the storm is extensive but will take 60 days to properly assess, said Doug Thornton, a regional vice president with the company that manages the state-owned facility.
Waist-high water flooded the streets around the stadium. Two inches of water and sewage were on the field. The electrical system, plumbing, seats, elevators and escalators were all damaged, along with the peeled-back roof that had three holes in it.
"It's very early at this point to speculate about the future of the Dome and whether it can be repaired," Thornton said.
A little more than 10 months removed from microfracture knee surgery, Stephen Davis is expected to start Carolina's regular season opener against the New Orleans Saints, although it remains unclear how much he'll have to share the load with DeShaun Foster and Nick Goings.
"This is the day I've been looking forward to since I had surgery," Davis said. "It has been a long road and I still have some road in front of me.
"The main thing is I have to take it one day at a time and when I get out on there on the field take it one play at a time and do what I can to help the team win."
Davis said if needed he can carry the football 20 to 25 times for the Panthers on Sunday, although it's highly unlikely the team would give him that much work in his first full game back.
"I tell everybody I can't predict what is going to happen during the football game, but mentally you have to be prepared for it," Davis said. "I have been playing 10 years and I feel like I'm mentally prepared. It's just a matter of going out and getting it done."
Panthers coach John Fox isn't about to spill his game plan, so we're left to guess just how many carries Davis will get.
Despite the abrupt move from starter to backup, Foster isn't bitter. He and Davis have a great relationship and they're often seen laughing together coming off the practice field.
"I understand that Stephen is the starter," Foster said last week.
"DeShaun has a bright career in front of him," Davis said. "Every day he goes out, he tries to learn something. When he's out there on the field, he can make anything happen."
Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said he's impressed with how Davis and Foster have handled themselves with a high level of professionalism and never seem to complain about their playing time. He knows that if it were any other way it might be a distraction to the team.
"Stephen doesn't think he's high and mighty," Delhomme said. "But it makes you pull together as a team when you have guys like that."