Photos: Packers vs Saints, pregame and game action _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) celebrates the touchdown of New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) in a NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in the Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014.

WHEN: 7:25 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Bank of America Stadium; Charlotte, N.C.

TV: CBS, NFL Network

RADIO: WWL-AM, 870 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge

RECORDS: The Saints are 3-4. The Panthers are 3-4-1.

LAST WEEK: Hosting the Seahawks (4-3), the Panthers did not trail until there were 47 seconds left in the game, when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a 23-yard touchdown pass that helped put Carolina behind 13-9. The Panthers failed to answer the score and are winless in their past three games, having tied one and lost two.

In New Orleans, after playing Green Bay (5-3) to a 16-16 halftime stalemate, the Saints got 21 points off two interceptions and a turnover on downs to rout the Packers 44-23.

COACHES: Panthers, Ron Rivera, fourth season (28-27-1); Saints, Sean Payton, eighth season (76-43)


Before Monday night’s late Dallas-Washington game

(league rank in parentheses)


Points: Saints, 28.4 (5th); Panthers, 20.9 (24th)

Total yards: Saints, 445.3 (2nd); Panthers, 332.5 (24th)

Rushing: Saints, 133 (7th); Panthers, 92.9 (27th)

Passing: Saints, 312.3 (2nd); Panthers, 239.6 (17th)


Points: Saints, 26.9 (26th); Panthers, 26 (24th)

Total yards: Saints, 390.4 (28th); Panthers, 378.5 (21st)

Rushing: Saints, 101.1 (10th); Panthers, 135.2 (28th)

Passing: Saints, 289.3 (31st); Panthers, 243.2 (18th)


PANTHERS: Quarterback Cam Newton, tight end Greg Olsen, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, linebacker Luke Kuechley, defensive end Mario Addison, defensive end Charles Johnson, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards

SAINTS: Quarterback Drew Brees, running back Mark Ingram, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Junior Galette, cornerback Keenan Lewis


Offense: As has been the case since he entered the NFL as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011, containing Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will be the Saints’ key to victory in Carolina. Newton has completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 1,643 yards and eight touchdowns; and he’s rushed 50 times for a touchdown and 214 yards (second on his team).

However, he’s thrown four interceptions and lost three fumbles, which may leave him vulnerable to a Saints defense that’s created four takeaways in its past two games. His favorite targets in the air are tight end Greg Olsen (42 catches for 509 yards and five touchdowns) and 6-foot-5 rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin (38 grabs for 571 yards and five touchdowns).

Defense: The Panthers’ defense has been poor to below average in various categories after the team suspended 2013 Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy while he awaits a jury trial on domestic violence charges.

Nonetheless, a unit whose heart and soul is linebacker and 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly has done well snatching the ball away from opponents this season: seven interceptions and five fumble recoveries for 12 takeaways.

Special teams: Kicker Graham Gano is 15-of-17 this season (an above-average 88.2 percent). The Panthers have shown they can be relatively dangerous in the return game: Rookie Philly Brown ran back a punt 79 yards for a touchdown earlier this season, Carolina’s first score off such a play since 2003. Brenton Bersin also has a 49-yard kickoff return to his name; though, in coverage, the Panthers have surrendered a 97-yard kickoff return this season.


-- This will be the first time the Saints face Panthers safety Roman Harper since they released him in February amid a purge of veteran salaries. Harper, the Saints’ second-round draft selection out of Alabama in 2006, helped New Orleans win Super Bowl XLIV.

He left as the only safety in franchise history to have been selected to two Pro Bowls; and after signing with Carolina in the offseason, he leads the Panthers in interceptions this year with three.

The only time Harper had three interceptions in a season for the Saints was in his second year in New Orleans. He ran one of those back for his only career touchdown so far.

-- The Saints will return to Carolina for the first time since they lost there 17-13 in Week 16. The defeat essentially gave Carolina the NFC South title, the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye.

Making it all the more gut-wrenching for the Saints was that they held a 3.5-game lead in the division race early in the season, but Carolina whittled away at that advantage and eventually overtook New Orleans by winning 11 of the Panthers’ final 12 games.

Their only setback in that stretch was a Week 14 loss to the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

If the Saints can win Thursday, it would be only their second road victory out of their past 11 regular-season away games. They split two road playoff games they played last year.

A win would also give the Saints the lead in the NFC South despite being 4-4 in that case: Carolina would be 3-5-1; Atlanta (2-6) doesn’t play again until Nov. 9; and Tampa Bay at best would be 2-6 if it beats Cleveland at home on Nov. 2.

-- ESPN’s program “E:60” will air a profile of colorful Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan at 7 p.m. Tuesday. A release from ESPN says, “Ryan ... has a big personality, a big reputation, a big mouth and even big hair — all of which has Ryan a big target. Throughout his coaching career, attention has always come his way, whether for good or bad.”

-- Ramon Antonio Vargas