A measly nine percentage points. That's how many separate the division-leading, once-tied Panthers from the team that trails them and visits them Thursday night.
The Saints come off their most impressive showing of the season in rolling over the Packers. The Panthers simply rolled over against the visiting Seahawks last Sunday, scoring just nine points to lose after leading Seattle for 59 minutes.
Cam Newton passed for just 121 yards, threw a pick and lost a fumble while dissolving under the pressure of trying to fashion a game-winning, last-minute drive.
He's hopeful the return of running back DeAngelo Williams from an ankle injury will contribute to the Panthers' read-option attack.
Operating behind a porous offensive line, Newton will run by necessity as much as design. Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin leads an average group on the outside, while tight end Greg Olsen is outstanding but had just a single reception for 16 yards against the Seahawks.
Former Falcon Thomas Decoud and former Saint Roman Harper man the safety positions. Each was hurt last Sunday and figures to be sore and sorely tested by the Saints' aerial game.
That passing attack thrived on play-action against the Packers with Mark Ingram contributing his career-high 172 yards rushing, an average of 7. 2 yards per carry. The balance that he provided kept the Saints on schedule offensively and allowed them to enjoy more splash plays downfield than in the previous six games this season.
The Saints will be dealing with a short week of work, the burden of travel, and the psychological weight of their seven-game road losing streak.
They've had a lot of help from others to be in this position. Now they can get where they expected to be this season by helping themselves.
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