Coach: Sean Payton, 6th season (52-32 regular season, 4-2 postseason).
Series History: 33rd regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series 17-15. The Saints swept last year’s season series, including a 34-3 blowout last November.
Last week: The Saints defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars to improve to 3-1 on the season, while the Panthers lost a heartbreaker to the Chicago Bears 34-29.
Offensive player to watch: QB Drew Brees. Believe it or not He’s actually thrown for more yards this season than Cam Newton. Brees has completed 69 percent of his passes for 1,410 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions for a quarterback rating of 102.9. Brees’ 70.6 completion percentage in 2009 set a single-season NFL record. He’s one of the hardest workers in the game, tirelessly preparing for an opponent. He spits the ball out extremely quick and plays in an offensive system conducive to his skills.
Defensive player to watch: MLB Jonathan Vilma. He plays a lot like Jon Beason, always swarming to the ball. Now in his fourth season with the Saints (eighth overall), Vilma has been to three Pro Bowls. He has 19 stops and one fumble recovery this season. He’s the heart and soul of the Saints defense.
Special teams player to watch: KR/PR Darren Sproles. Sproles is kind of the do-it-all guy for the Saints, returning kicks and punts, running the ball and receiving. Signed as a free agent from San Diego, he’s basically taken the place of Reggie Bush, but many, including Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, believe he’s better in this system than Bush was. Sproles is averaging 17.8 yards per punt return and already has a 72-yard touchdown. He’s averaging 27.9 yards per kickoff return with a long of 57. Given Carolina’s troubles on special teams, Sproles could be a huge factor in Sunday’s game.
By the Numbers: 13 – Number of sacks already this season for the Saints.
My take: The Saints blitzed more than any team in the league last season under coordinator Gregg Williams and don’t expect them to change that strategy this week in facing a rookie like Newton. Carolina’s defense has its work cut out for them against a very talented offense that includes a vastly improved running game led by Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Sproles.