Cam Newton, Hau'oli Kikaha

Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) is sacked by New Orleans Saints' Hau'oli Kikaha (44) in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone) ORG XMIT: NCCB118

Bob Leverone

WHEN:?3:25 p.m.

WHERE:?Mercedes-Benz Superdome


RADIO:?WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge; en espa?ol: WGSO-AM, 990; WVDU-FM, 97.9

RECORDS:?New Orleans 8-3; Carolina 8-3

COACHES:?Saints, Sean Payton, 11th season, 102-69; Panthers, Ron Rivera, seventh season, 61-45-1


LAST WEEK:?Carolina's defense and special teams came through to stave off a surprising upset bid by the New York Jets, who pushed the Panthers all the way to the wire but gave up fourth-quarter touchdowns on a Luke Kuechly fumble return and a Kaelin Clay punt return.?

OFFENSE:?All eyes are on tight end Greg Olsen in practice this week. Olsen, a notorious Saints killer who returned last week against the Jets after missing eight games due to a broken foot, left that game due to soreness and his progress will be monitored closely all week. If Olsen is out or a little less than himself, the Panthers passing game will continue to revolve around rookie running back Christian McCaffrey (59 catches, 468 yards) and wide receiver Devin Funchess (50 catches, 643 yards, five touchdowns). With Kelvin Benjamin traded at the deadline and rookie Curtis Samuel on injured reserve, McCaffrey and Funchess have become Cam Newton's favorite targets. Newton, who was held in check during the first meeting between the two teams, has run a lot more since then; he ranks second on the Panthers with 464 rushing yards, only 22 yards behind Jonathan Stewart. Newton is still erratic as a passer. He has 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and he's been sacked 26 times despite his incredible mobility. Newton is also still battling a sore thumb. Up front, the Panthers are led by center Ryan Kalil and former LSU guard Trai Turner, but there are plays to be made on the edges, as the Saints showed by sacking Newton four times in the first meeting. Overall, despite the offseason hype, Carolina remains a run-first offense that slides into the middle of the pack, ranking 17th in yards and 15th in points so far.

DEFENSE:?Carolina's defense, on the other hand, comes as advertised, maybe even a little bit better. The Panthers rank second in the NFL in total defense; the 6.4 yards per play the Saints racked up in the Week 3 meeting in Charlotte is the highest amount any team has posted against Carolina all season. Kuechly remains the ultimate difference-maker; he has three interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 80 tackles this season despite missing some time due to a concussion. A lot like Los Angeles, Carolina can get pressure from a lot of different guys up front. Veteran Julius Peppers leads the Panthers with 8.5 sacks, speed rusher Mario Addison has 7.5 and defensive tackle Kawann Short has four to lead a team that's tied for fourth in the league with 32 sacks. Bolstered by that front, Carolina also ranks third in the NFL against the run. If there's one weakness for the Panthers, it has been an inablity to create turnovers; Kuechly's five represent half of Carolina's total for the season, which is tied for 27th in the NFL.

SPECIAL TEAMS:?Kicker Graham Gano has missed only once, punter Michael Palardy has been great and the punt return combination of McCaffrey and Clay is dangerous enough to take it to the house. Carolina's coverage units have also been solid.?

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.