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Week 3 Preview: Saints at Panthers

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New Orleans Saints (0-2) at Carolina Panthers (2-0)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte – TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale

*Keys to the game: Saints QB Drew Brees is in a race against the clock to regain enough strength in his injured throwing shoulder to keep backup Luke McCown on the sideline. No matter who starts, the Saints’ vaunted vertical passing game appears to be a thing of the past as Brees has completed only 25 percent of his attempts of 15-plus yards this season and coach Sean Payton is unlikely to let McCown fling the ball deep downfield with any consistency. RB Mark Ingram will be a focal point in the run and passing attacks, and the Saints expect a physical battle up front whether or not MLB Luke Keuchly (concussion) returns for the Panthers.

With their issues at wide receiver, the Panthers can expect to see a constant flood of stacked boxes aimed at pinching rushing lanes. RB Jonathan Stewart has had trouble finding openings, and QB Cam Newton led the team with 76 rushing yards last week. Newton has had a 71.3 passer rating in each of the first two games in part because he lacks any dynamic receivers and the receivers he does have are dropping too many passes. The Saints are allowing 4.3 yards per carry, so the Panthers will attempt to pound the ball and control field position in what should be a low-scoring game.

*Matchup to watch – Saints P Thomas Morstead vs. Panthers P Brad Nortman: This shapes up as a game of field position. Nortman is averaging 40.8 net yards per punt while Morestead is ranked 24th in the NFL at 37.1 through two games.

*Player spotlight – Saints RB C.J. Spiller: He got his feet wet with four touches last week, and New Orleans needs Spiller to step up in that Darren Sproles role and give Carolina another versatile threat to consider along with Brandin Cooks.

*Fast facts: Brees needs two touchdown passes to become the fourth QB in NFL history with 400. … In his 18 games with the Panthers, Ted Ginn has scored six receiving touchdowns. That’s as many as he had in 104 games with the Dolphins, 49ers and Cardinals.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Drew Brees at 75 percent or Luke McCown at 100? Neither option sounds ideal on the road for a Saints offense without the big-play element that has been its calling card for so many years.

*Our pick: Panthers 19-16


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