Saints growing confidence entering Carolina

The New Orleans Saints face a brutal schedule the next month and a half. That made their win over Oakland all the more important -- to their win-loss record and their battered psyche. Plus, link to exclusive content through this article.

The New Orleans Saints defense has taken its share of criticism the past couple of years, some of it deserved. But credit is due when credit is due, and the past few weeks the Saints run defense has produced against some talented NFL backs. Go inside the numbers and find out why the Saints are getting it done on the ground in this exclusive article. Get the scoop by clicking right here.

The New Orleans Saints are just six games into the 2008 season, but it's never too late to start thinking out free agency in 2009.'s Adam Caplan has confirmed that at least 14 Saints will be restricted or unrestricted free agents in 2009. How will those players fit into the Saints' plans next season and beyond? has already analyzed each potential free agent and their worth to the Saints in 2009. Click right here for the story.

Considering the schedule they're facing in the next 5 1/2 weeks, the Saints might have saved their season with a satisfying victory over the Oakland Raiders last Sunday.

In ending a three-game homestand, which would be their last contest in the Superdome for 43 days, the Saints had to fight back from a loss to the Minnesota Vikings six days earlier to crush the Raiders, 34-3.

So instead of going into the toughest stretch of their schedule with a 2-4 record, they're 3-3 and just one game off the NFC South lead heading into Sunday's showdown with the Carolina Panthers (4-2) in Bank of America Stadium.

Even though they're in last place in the division, the Saints are gaining confidence as they head to Carolina. From there, they go to London for a game with the San Diego Chargers in Wembley Stadium before their bye.

After that, it'll be two more road games at Atlanta and Kansas City before they return to the Superdome for a Nov. 24 matchup with the Green Bay Packers.

That's why Sunday's game with the Panthers is so important for the Saints, who can climb above the .500 mark for the first time since a season-opening win over Tampa Bay. A victory would also leave the Saints no worse than one game out of the division lead as they near the halfway point of their season.

The Saints would also be 2-0 in the NFC South, which is almost as important as being 4-3 considering the current logjam at the top of the division among Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay -- who are all 4-2 going into this week's games.

"It should tell us a lot," Saints strong-side linebacker Scott Fujita said of Sunday's game at Carolina. "The last two weeks, at least defensively, have been encouraging. But what we do against division opponents is what really matters.

"We can't get way too far ahead of ourselves just yet," he said of his team's win last Sunday. "We just have to maintain this and stay consistent and keep building on these performances."

That's because things are going to get tougher, especially in the division.

"It's going to be an all-day sucker for the rest of the season, when it comes to playing the teams in our division and us all keeping up with one another," said quarterback Drew Brees. "It's a tough division, and everybody seems to be playing really well. So we know we have our work cut out for us."

Especially in the next two weeks when they have to go against an angry Panthers' team and then take on the Chargers.

Brees likened Sunday's matchup with the Panthers to his team's game with the Raiders last week. After a mistake-filled loss to the Vikings, the Saints were determined to play better against the Raiders.

"I know Carolina, they've got a good head coach and they've got a good team -- so they're going to respond," he said. "We're going to get their best game without a doubt. But if we're playing our best football and taking care of the football and not having these stupid penalties like we have had in the past, I think we're hard to beat."

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