NFC South Showdown

Charlotte, NC - The inconsistent New Orleans Saints are coming off their most complete outing of the season. Now, the key will be to avoid taking another step backwards.

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The Saints look to build on their most convincing win of the year Sunday when they visit the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers, who hope to rebound from a lopsided division loss.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Panthers -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 63% of bets for this game have been placed on Saints +3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Through the season's first six weeks, New Orleans (3-3) has looked good at times and awful at others. The Saints boast one of the NFL's most prolific offenses at 412.2 total yards per game, but that production has been tempered by turnovers and penalties.

The miscues boiled over Oct. 6, when New Orleans had a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, fumbled five times, threw two interceptions and committed 11 penalties for 102 yards in a 30-27 Monday night loss to Minnesota.

Quarterback Drew Brees took it upon himself to help the Saints overcome those kinds of mistakes last Sunday, even reminding his teammates in the huddle to keep playing disciplined football.

Brees' approach appeared to work, as New Orleans played its first turnover-free game and cruised to a 34-3 victory over Oakland. Brees went 26-for-30 for 320 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 144.4 - his highest in three seasons with New Orleans.

"At some point you've just got to take a hold of the team and say, 'All right, this is our team and this is showing poorly upon us and we need to get this stuff fixed,'" Brees said.

"It makes you say, 'All right, quit acting like a bunch of high school kids and let's be professionals.' If we're playing our best football, taking care of the football and not having these stupid penalties like we've had in the past - if we're playing our best - I think we're hard to beat."

New Orleans certainly needs Brees at the top of his game. Brees, who leads the league with 159 completions and 1,993 passing yards while ranking second in completion percentage at 71.0, has three touchdown passes in each of the Saints' three wins and one in each of their three losses.

As well as Brees and the Saints performed last week, coach Sean Payton says the key going forward is not to assume the team's turnover problem is fixed.

"It starts with me and starts with our staff - that we can never grow tired of that lesson or that objective, because it's so telling," said Payton, whose club has eight turnovers in its losses and three in its victories. "If you went back (Sunday) ... you'd find the teams that won the turnover battle and didn't make the mistakes probably won the game."

That was the case for the Panthers (4-2), who committed three turnovers and forced none in a 27-3 loss at Tampa Bay. Carolina fell into a three-way tie atop the tight NFC South with the Buccaneers and Atlanta - one game ahead of New Orleans.

All three of the Panthers' turnovers were interceptions thrown by Jake Delhomme, who was 20-for-39 for 242 yards and no touchdowns. He had five TDs and two interceptions during Carolina's 4-1 start.

Despite his team's poor performance, Panthers coach John Fox remained calm after practice Monday.

"The sky is not falling. It's not the end of the world," he said. "I don't think anybody in that locker room - coaches, players, anybody - is pleased with the way we performed yesterday. ... We've got this day to admit mistakes, correct mistakes and then hopefully not let them happen again."

Delhomme, who spent his first two NFL seasons with New Orleans after playing his college ball at Louisiana-Lafayette, is 6-2 with nine touchdowns and three interceptions in his career against the Saints. He missed both games against them last season because of an elbow injury.

Brees was 53-for-83 for 512 yards, three TDs and three interceptions against Carolina in 2007, as the teams split their two meetings.

He could get some help if Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey can return. Colston, the Saints' leading receiver with 98 catches, 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, hasn't played since Week 1 because of thumb surgery. Shockey, a four-time Pro Bowl tight end in his first season with New Orleans, has missed three games while recovering from a sports hernia.

Both are questionable for Sunday.

Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
CAROLINA is 14-12 against the spread versus NEW ORLEANS since 1992
CAROLINA is 14-12 straight up against NEW ORLEANS since 1992
16 of 26 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
CAROLINA is 2-2 against the spread versus NEW ORLEANS over the last 3 seasons 
CAROLINA is 3-1 straight up against NEW ORLEANS over the last 3 seasons 
3 of 4 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at CAROLINA since 1992
NEW ORLEANS is 8-5 against the spread versus CAROLINA since 1992
NEW ORLEANS is 7-6 straight up against CAROLINA since 1992
9 of 13 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at CAROLINA over the last 3 seasons.
NEW ORLEANS is 2-0 against the spread versus CAROLINA over the last 3 seasons 
CAROLINA is 1-1 straight up against NEW ORLEANS over the last 3 seasons 
2 of 2 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
[S] Aaron Glenn is downgraded to doubtful - Knee - 10/09/08
[WR] David Patten missed last game %27?%27 - Groin - 10/06/08
[WR] Marques Colston is upgraded to %27?%27 - Thumb - 10/09/08
[S] Chris Reis missed last game %27?%27 - Hamstring - 10/06/08
[OG] Jamar Nesbit has been suspended for 4 games - Suspension - 09/23/08
[LB] Mark Simoneau IR - Back - 09/12/08
[PK] Martin Gramatica IR - Groin - 10/08/08
[TE] Jeremy Shockey is upgraded to %27?%27 - Hernia - 10/09/08
[CB] Tracy Porter IR - Wrist - 10/07/08
[DE] Sedrick Ellis expected to miss 2-4 weeks - Knee - 10/03/08
[LB] Dan Connor IR - Knee - 09/22/08
[OT] Jeff Otah missed last game, "?" - Ankle - 10/05/08
[WR] D.J. Hackett expected to miss - Knee - 10/05/08
[WR] Ryne Robinson IR - Knee - 10/08/08
[OT] Jordan Gross missed last game, "?" - Concussion - 10/05/08
[C] Ryan Kalil injured last game, "?" - Ankle - 10/06/08
[QB] Matt Moore is out 4-6 weeks. - Leg - 09/03/08

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Posted: 10/15/08 7:18 PM

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