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John DeShazier: Saints won't be taking Panthers lightly

Division opponents are the most difficult to defeat

There should be no concern that the New Orleans Saints will enter Sunday's game against Carolina at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with a light regard for an opponent that's on a six-game losing streak, a seven-game winless streak, and was dominated by New Orleans in a 28-10 Saints victory in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 30.

There's no overconfidence because, first and foremost, the Saints are 5-7. Players said they're in no position to look down their chinstraps at any opponent, even one that appears to have taken on water.

Second, the Panthers (3-8-1) are an NFC South Division opponent. And division opponents – twice-a-year, every-year opponents – often are the most difficult to beat because of the familiarity component.

"I think both teams know each other well, starting with the personnel," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "In this case I would say that there's a handful of players that are starting (for the Panthers on Sunday) that were not in the game a month ago, or however long it was.

"But I also think when you watch the prior game more closely, (you think), 'Man, we were fortunate here, let's make sure we clean this up,' whether it is in coverage or whether it was a pass play where they might have had a sack where you were able to get the ball off. So there are a ton of things when you watch the tape on the prior game that you want to correct because you know that they can repeat themselves in this game.

"Philosophically, I think no team is going to completely change from what they try to do with regards to scheme. There will be some wrinkles that come on third down or red zone and it is about playing fast and understanding defenses that we are seeing, and understanding the offenses we are seeing and protecting the football."

The Saints did all those things in their 35-32 road victory over Pittsburgh, which broke a three-game losing streak, all at the Superdome. Specifically, New Orleans didn't commit a turnover for the second time this season; it has won both turnover-free games.

In the Saints' five victories, they have won the turnover battle four times. In each of the seven losses they haven't achieved a plus turnover ratio.

Still, the fact is that the Panthers haven't won a game in two months, since their 31-24 victory over the Bears on Oct. 5.

The Saints held them to 231 yards (just 122 passing) and 15 first downs, and produced four sacks.

"You've got to caution against, 'This is the same team you played already and you're guaranteed a win,' " linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "As everyone knows in the NFL, you earn everything you get. We've had a great week of practice and we've just got to keep going."

Plus, guard Jahri Evans said, the Panthers won't attack the same.

"The awareness of them knowing what we were good at the last time we played them," Evans explained. "How they played us, some of those plays (they'll play) differently, maybe. How they line up against formations differently. The bottom line is, we've got to play behind our pads and go out there and be physical."

And attack the present, rather than attempt to live off the past.

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