New Orleans Saints (3-0) at Carolina Panthers (1-2)KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
SERIES: 23rd meeting. The series is tied, 11-11, after the teams split their games a year ago. In their last matchup, the Panthers won 27-10 in a game played in Baton Rouge, La., on Dec. 18, 2005.
2006 RANKINGS: Saints: offense 10th (12th rush, 11th pass); defense 5th (12th rush, 9th pass). Panthers: offense 28th (21st rush, 22nd pass); defense 17th (27th rush, 7th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers need DT Ma'ake Kemoeatu to step up and be the run-stopper they envisioned when they signed him over the offseason. It hasn't happened yet, and the Saints will attempt to loosen up the Carolina defense with the combination of RBs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. The Saints' biggest concern might be getting back up for a divisional road game just six days after their emotional return to the Superdome. If it's not that, it's Panthers WR Steve Smith. He played 52 snaps in his first regular-season action last Sunday, and is expected to increase his workload this week. Carolina's running game has been inconsistent, and with New Orleans allowing just 88.3 rushing yards per game, the Saints will attempt to stuff RB DeShaun Foster and turn the Panthers' offense into a one-dimensional attack.
FAST FACTS: Saints: Seek first 4-0 start since 1993. ... Seek third straight win in Carolina. Panthers: QB Jake Delhomme spent his first five season with New Orleans (1998-2002). ... Smith needs 129 receiving yards to join Muhsin Muhammad (7,751) as only players in franchise history with 4,000.
--DE Rob Ninkovich is out for the season after suffering ligament damage to his right knee in Monday night's game with the Atlanta Falcons. He was placed on injured reserve Thursday.
--DE Eric Moore was signed to the active roster from the Saints' practice squad.
--FS Bryan Scott will be sidelined for Sunday's game after re-aggravating his left hamstring in the Saints' win over the Falcons on Monday night.
--WR Devery Henderson, the third receiver in the three-wide set, has a shoulder injury and is questionable for Sunday.
--WR Lance Moore would likely fill in as the third receiver if Henderson is not able to play in Sunday's game.
--RCB Fred Thomas is questionable for Sunday with a hip injury, but he was able to participate in team drills during Thursday's practice.
--MLB Danny Clark also has a hip injury and is questionable for Sunday's game with the Panthers. He also worked in the team portion of practice on Thursday.
--G Jermane Mayberry, who was put on injured reserve with a shoulder problem on Sept. 2 after missing most of training camp, has retired and moved from the reserve/injured list to reserve/retired.
--RB Nick Goings is back practicing with the team and is expected to rejoin the active roster this week when the Panthers host the Saints. That likely means Eric Shelton will go back to being inactive.
--SS Shaun Williams didn't practice on Thursday because of a foot injury and it appears he will miss his second straight game.
--SS Colin Branch is expected to start in place of the injured Shaun Williams.
--DL Kindal Moorehead has been working more at defensive end than defensive tackle this year. However, he can easily switch back to playing inside.
--RT Todd Fordham was upgraded from questionable to probable on Thursday, but will resume in a backup role this week behind Jeremy Bridges.
--RT Jeremy Bridges is expected to make his second straight start for the Panthers.
--LB Dan Morgan is out again this week and the Panthers have set no timetable for his return.
--MLB Chris Draft will start in place of Morgan this week. He's very knowledgeable when it comes to playing the Saints.
--CBs Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble have combined for only two interceptions through three weeks.
SCOUTing the SaintsWith three wins under their belt and their return to the Superdome behind them at last, the Saints go back to work on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers in Bank of America Stadium.
The thing Saints fans are fearing the most is an emotional letdown after their heroes floated into the Superdome and floated out three hours later with a convincing 20-point win over the previously unbeaten Atlanta Falcons.
That's why coach Sean Payton gave his team a chance to sit back and soak everything in, giving them a day off on Wednesday, before turning their attention to the Panthers (1-2).
"The thing that you work with as a coach is the logistics of a Monday night game on a short week," Payton said. "Outside of that, I think everyone has to deal with scheduling issues, all 32 teams in our league. There's some things that work in our favor. There's some things when you go on the road after a Monday night. That's part of the deal.
"No one's going to really feel sorry for you, so we got to get prepared and get back to work and get going. That's the way it is and it's for everybody. When you look at everyone's schedule, there's short weeks for everyone."
But according to Payton, there's more to it than that.
"There's evening games. There's things that come up that aren't perfect," Payton added. "That's just part of the deal."
Part of the deal is facing a Carolina team that lost its first two games and then had its back to the wall before fighting its way out in last week's 26-24 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs.
"Carolina is hungry," Saints wide receiver Joe Horn said. "If we're not ready to play mentally and physically, they'll beat our (butts). It's that simple. But that (a letdown) is not going to happen because we're not going to let it happen, trust me."
SCOUTing the PanthersFor the first time this season, the Panthers are expected to start the same starting five on the offensive line for a second straight week.
Although Todd Fordham was upgraded from questionable to probable on Thursday it looks at though Jeremy Bridges will get the start at right tackle again this week against the New Orleans Saints.
The rest of the offensive line will be the same as last week with Jordan Gross starting at left tackle, Mike Wahle at left guard, Geoff Hangartner at center and Evan Mathis at right guard.
At some point here in the next couple of weeks, however, you can expect a change when center Justin Hartwig gets healthy.
Hartwig is listed as questionable but has not practiced all week and will likely miss his third straight game with a groin injury. Hartwig has only played one game with the Panthers since signing a $23 million, five-year contract this off-season.
Hartwig has been working on his snapping, so it's expected he will resume his spot at center when he returns. That will force a change of some sort. There's a chance Hangartner could move over to right guard to replace Mathis. But if Mathis is playing well, the team may not want to make too many changes and will likely keep Mathis at right guard and Hangartner will go back to being the offensive line's "sixth man."