KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
SERIES: 4th meeting. Panthers lead the series 3-0, but they've never played the World Champions at Bank of America Stadium. They did beat Indianapolis in 1995 in a game played at Clemson while their stadium in Charlotte was being built. Carolina has only played the Colts once this decade but that was a memorable game as the Panthers emerged victorious in a battle of unbeatens. On Oct. 12, 2003, the Panthers received a big second half from RB DeShaun Foster and defeated the Colts 23-20 in overtime on a John Kasay field goal.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Colts are too balanced and have too many explosive weapons for the Panthers to keep in check unless they are able to produce a few turnovers. Problem is, the Colts have an NFL-low four giveaways this season. They'll use RB Joseph Addai to set-up play-action, so if Carolina can't stuff the run out of the gate, it could be academic early. ... QB David Carr is healthy and expected to start for the Panthers, although coach John Fox has played it close to the vest and hinted at a possible platoon with Vinny Testaverde. The Panthers know they'll have to put a decent amount of points on the board to compete, but they lack much of a vertical passing game right now and must run the ball well to shorten the game and protect their defense.
KEY INJURIES: Colts: S Matt Giordano (hamstring) might be uncertain until Saturday; LT Tony Ugoh (shoulder) might share some snaps with Charlie Johnson. Panthers: RB DeShaun Foster (toe) is limited, meaning DeAngelo Williams could start; MLB Dan Morgan (Achilles) is not practicing and might not be ready to return, leaving rookie Jon Beason in the middle.
FAST FACTS: The Panthers are the only franchise the Colts have never beaten (0-3). ... The Colts are 7-0 when RB Joseph Addai has at least 20 carries.
--WR Marvin Harrison needs 61 receiving yards to move past James Lofton and into third place on the NFL career list. Harrison has 13,944 yards. Harrison (knee) sat out Thursday's practice. He has not practiced this week but is expected to start Sunday at Carolina.
--DE Dwight Freeney returned to practice Thursday after being given a day off to rest. Freeney will start against Carolina on Sunday.
--OT Tony Ugoh (shoulder) did not practice Thursday. Ugoh has been bothered by a burner that he received in the Jacksonville game Monday night. He is expected to start this week at Carolina.
--LB Victor Worsley (foot) has not practiced for the past two weeks. He is not expected to be available for the Carolina game on Sunday.
--S Bob Sanders was given his normal Thursday practice off. Sanders will be in the starting lineup Sunday at Carolina.
--WR Aaron Moorehead was allowed to sit out Thursday's practice. Moorehead has been bothered by back spasms in recent weeks. He is expected to be available for the Carolina game on Sunday.
--LB Freddy Keiaho saw limited work on Thursday. Keiaho, who started and played against Jacksonville Monday night after missing the Tampa Bay game with a concussion, is slated to start against the Panthers on Sunday.
--QB David Carr practiced on Thursday and is likely to start on Sunday if healthy, although head coach John Fox has not said that.
--QB Vinny Testaverde will likely be the backup this week.
--RB DeShaun Foster is aiming for his first 1,000-yard season. He can reach the halfway point this Sunday against the Colts.
--WR Steve Smith has not been on the same page with David Carr this year, so it will be interesting to see how he performs this Sunday against the Colts. Smith normally shows up for big games.
--LB Dan Morgan did not practice on Thursday and there's almost no chance he's getting the field this week. You might as well rule him out at least until next week.
--LB Jon Beason will start in the middle again this week.
--LB Adam Seward is likely to be held out of this week's game with a calf injury.
--RB Nick Goings went on IR late Wednesday night. He will be missed on special teams.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers are considered to be two of the NFL's premier defensive ends. But if you were to go strictly by statistics, the pair may pale in comparison to other defensive linemen around the league.
Freeney, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, leads the Indianapolis Colts with 3.5 sacks and 11 quarterback pressures this season. The Colts' all-time franchise sack leader had two sacks, two forced fumbles and recorded the first safety of his professional career in last week's 29-7 win over AFC South rival Jacksonville.
Peppers, meanwhile, has 1.5 sacks to pace the Carolina Panthers defense this year. His four quarterback pressures, meanwhile, are tied for third-best on the team. He is also a three-time Pro Bowl performer.
But statistics don't necessarily tell the entire story. Just ask Colts coach Tony Dungy.
"Dwight is playing very well for us. He has earned that notoriety that he very rarely gets single blocked anymore. So it's not as easy as it was his first three years to reap that kind of havoc. But he has a lot of effect on people's game plans even when he is not putting up the big numbers," Dungy said.
"When he does get single blocked, he can make things happen. He's a lot like Peppers in that they may not be able to put up the stats because so many things are geared to slowing them down."
The Colts coach sees a lot of similarities between Freeney and Peppers, as well as the way people try to block them.
"Julius is just a bigger guy. He plays on the left side and he's still very disruptive. You've got to account for him. They (Carolina) probably do more things with him in terms of dropping him into pass coverage and that kind of stuff. But those guys are athletic and they have the knack of making the big play," Dungy said.
"They create turnovers and they're guys you've got to account for when you game plan. You don't just say, 'That's any old end over there.' You have things set up for how you want to block them. I think that's the mark of great players, that you have to account for them."
The Panthers hope to steal a page from their 2003 win over the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday.
The Panthers know from experience the best way to beat the high-powered Indianapolis Colts is to keep quarterback Peyton Manning off the football field, and that will mean running the ball and controlling the clock behind DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams.
That's how the Panthers knocked off the then-unbeaten Colts at the RCA Dome on Oct. 12, 2003. Behind Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, the Panthers ran 41 times for 189 yards to overcome a 13-3 halftime deficit and beat the Colts 23-20 in overtime.
In that game, the Panthers held more than a 10-minute edge in time of possession.
"From here on out, it's going to be an important part of our game because most of the experience on offense is up front now (on the offensive line)," said offensive tackle Jordan Gross. "We have to eat up the clock with these guys. Their defense is solid. It seems like since the Jacksonville game last year when they got hit hard on the ground, they've really firmed up and looked great. We have to have success on offense if for no other reason than to keep their offense off the field."
Foster is expected to start after returning to practice on Thursday. Williams, who is coming off a career-high 121-yard performance against Arizona a week ago Sunday, will also see a good bit of work.
The Panthers rank ninth in the league in rushing, averaging 132.5 yards per game on the ground and 4.6 yards per carry under new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson.
The Colts (6-0) are averaging better than 32 points per game this season and have held more than a four-minute advantage over opponents in time of possession.
"When you face a team with an explosive offense like they have, you have to play time-possession with them," said Foster, whose teams are 23-2 record during his career when he carries more than 15 times per game. "We have to keep the ball in our hands."
Of course, that's easier said than done.
Coach Tony Dungy's defense is no slouch.
"There's no doubt this defense is better than the one we faced in 2003," said fullback Brad Hoover.
The Colts rank third in the league, holding opponents to just 269.5 yards per game, including 107.3 on the ground. They've allowed only four rushing touchdowns in six games. Since the return of safety Bob Sanders prior to their Super Bowl run a year ago, the Colts defense is simply playing lights out, although it will never get the same attention as the offense.
The one thing the Panthers might have in their corner is the fact the Colts will be playing their second road game in six days and might get fatigued if the Panthers keep pounding away at their line. Or, perhaps they will catch the Colts looking ahead to what will be a much-hyped matchup next Sunday against AFC rival New England.