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Panthers vs. Saints: Five things to watch

Containing Cam Newton is important

1. THE NEXT MILESTONE. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is 287 yards shy of becoming the fifth player with 50,000 NFL passing yards. He has done well in milestone occasions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. He set the league record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass, at 48, in a home victory last season (he extended that mark to 54) and when he set the league single-season record for passing yards, in 2011, the final 696 of his 5,476 yards that season came in the Superdome. He's averaging 302 passing yards per game this season, so an "average" game will get him the mark. And if he throws for more than 300 yards against Carolina's formidable defense, that'll be a good sign for the Saints' offense. Plus, you know he's looking to play well after an atypical performance (23 for 38 for 147 yards and a touchdown) in Monday's loss in Seattle.

2. BOUNCE BACK GAME. The Saints are 9-3 and haven't lost consecutive games this season. But did you know that with Sean Payton as head coach – last season notwithstanding; he was suspended – the Saints haven't lost consecutive regular-season games since they dropped the final three in 2009, after they'd sprinted to a 13-0 record and already had clinched home-field advantage in the NFC throughout the playoffs? That means New Orleans has shown an ability to rebound after a loss. And that's a trend it'll want to keep intact against the Panthers.

3. DOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE. Usually, Saints players and fans bristle at the notion that New Orleans is a "dome" team. But Sunday will be a time to embrace it. Since 2006, Payton's first season, New Orleans is 14-3 at  home in prime-time games, and owns a 10-game winning streak during which it is outscoring opponents by an average score of 37-15. They've been big games and the Saints have risen to the challenge. Sunday night, with first place in the NFC South standings on the line, is a big game. Absolutely no one will be surprised if the Saints again rise to the challenge.

4. CAN CAM. This one is a little easier said than done. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton annually has given the Saints' defense fits, and he could be in the best groove of his NFL career. During Carolina's eight-game winning streak, Newton has completed 153 of 239 passes (64 percent) for 1,731 yards and 13 touchdowns, with six interceptions. He also has run 62 times for 324 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. The Panther offense begins and end with Newton, and the Saints' defense had trouble with a quarterback (Seattle's Russell Wilson) who owns a similar skill set physically. The defense hasn't lost confidence and believes its mistakes against Wilson can be corrected. Newton will test it.

5. BRING THE NOISE. Saints fans weren't all that receptive last week to the notion that Seattle's fans, nicknamed The 12th Man, received accolades for being among the most vocal in the league. The 12th Man, in fact, set a record for decibel level at an outdoor sports facility. Saints fans, meanwhile, not only questioned whether Seattle was as vocal as they are, but seemed pretty eager to show what they can do. Seattle, Kansas City or some other outside venue always will hold the record for highest decibel level at an outdoor facility over Saints fans, because the Dome is an indoor place. But figure on Carolina having a hard time hearing on offense Sunday night; there's some pent-up frustration that probably will be unleashed by the home crowd.

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