New Orleans at Carolina, 8:25 p.m. (NFL Network) Bank of America Stadium. The NFL kicks off Week 9 on Thursday night on NFL Network when 3-4 New Orleans travels to Charlotte to take on the 3-4-1 Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. The top two teams in the NFC South square off in an old-South-Style pigskin battle. It’s gumbo vs. pulled pork.

This will be the 39th matchup between the two clubs, with Carolina leading the series 20-18. The Panthers have also won three of the past four matchups.

Carolina heads into Thursday night following a 13-9 loss against Seattle last week at home.

“We didn’t play our best football on Sunday,” Panthers QB Cam Newtown told the Charlotte Observer. “The next opportunity awaits on Thursday and I’m anticipating that to be a great game for us.” Carolina was outrushed by the defending Super Bowl champs 119-114 and Newton was sacked three times in the contest. Carolina, in second place in the NFC South and a half-game behind the Saints, were 2-10 on third down tries and 1-2 on fourth, while holding the ball for 31 minutes. Seattle kept the ball for only 29 in the win and went 4-11 on third down tries.

In the loss, rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (Round 1, No. 28 overall) had four catches for 94 yards, including a career-long 51-yard reception in the fourth quarter to set up one of the team’s three field goals. Benjamin currently leads NFC rookies with 571 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

The Saints head into Thursday night also getting key contributions from their first-round rookie receiver. Brandon Crooks (Round 1, No. 20 overall) had six catches for 94 yards and scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) in the Saints’ 44-23 win over Green Bay on Sunday Night Football. Cooks is the first Saints rookie to score on both a rushing touchdown and receiving touchdown in the same game since 2006 (Reggie Bush, December 3, 2006 vs. San Francisco). Cooks leads all rookies with 40 receptions and is fourth among rookies with 372 receiving yards.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees passed for 311 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 138.4 passer rating in the Saints’ win last week. The Saints held the Packers to 89 yards on the ground in their win in the Big Easy after breaking a 16-16 tie at the half and outscored Green Bay 28-7 in the final 30 minutes of play. Of New Orleans’ 193 yards on the ground, RB Mark Ingram regained his Heisman form from Alabama and ran for 172.

Since joining New Orleans in 2006 after starting his career with San Diego, Brees has led the Saints to 22-10 (.688) record in primetime games (any game that starts 7 p.m. or later on the East Coast), the third-best record of any team during that span. With a win on Thursday night, New Orleans can tie the New England Patriots (23) for the second-most wins in primetime since 2006.

“There’s no more important game than this quick turnaround, the Thursday night game at Carolina,” Brees told the Times-Picayune and the Mobile Register. “This (Carolina) was the team that won the division last year. We are going to need our best performance to beat them.”

Brees has 78 touchdown passes during primetime games, trailing only Peyton Manning (97) for the most during that span. His 9,639 passing yards are also the fourth-most on primetime since 2006. In Sunday’s win, he threw for 311 yards and three TDs without an interception, while his counterpart Rodgers was sacked three times and picked off twice, although he had a TD pass in the loss. New Orleans was 6-10 on third down conversions (0-1 on fourth down) and kept the ball for 31:39, while the Packers were 1-7 and 1-2 on third and fourth downs, holding the ball for 28:21.

The Panthers have outscored New Orleans by a slim 12-point lead 800-789 in the series. The two NFC South foes met twice last year, both teams split the series in 2013 and both won in their home ballparks.

Carolina took a 6-0 lead over the Saints in the Big Easy in week 14, only to see that lead go away as New Orleans rallied to take a 31-13 win in the Superdome. Although Carolina held New Orleans to 69 rushing yards (Carolina had 128), the Saints did manage to sack Newton five times, while Brees threw four TDs with no interceptions and 313 yards (Newton threw for 160). New Orleans went 7-12 on third down conversions, while the Panthers were 6-15, 1-1 on fourth down tries. The clock was on the side of the Panthers, who held the pigskin for 32:27 to the Saints’ 27:33.

The defending NFC South champions got revenge in front of the home folks in the Tar Heel State two weeks later in week 16, taking a 17-13 win. Carolina led 7-6 at half before they would go on to outscore New Orleans 10-7 in the final 30 minutes of play. This time around, the Saints outrushed Carolina 126-81 and Brees was sacked six times and picked off twice, while Newton was sacked four times with an interception and a TD to his ledger. Third down tries in the second meeting? Nothing to crow about, as the Saints were 5-18 (0-1 on fourth down), while Carolina was 0-9. Time was on the side of New Orleans in the second meeting, with the Saints keeping the ball for 38:48, while Carolina held it for 21:12.

New Orleans was favored by 4 and the Saints covered the spread in the week 14 game in the Big Easy, winning by 18 but both teams missed the 48 1/2 over/under, scoring 44 points. In week 16, the Panthers won by 4, covering the 3-point spread but both Carolna and New Orleans only scored 30 points, missing the 47 over/under.

In this 39th meeting between two NFC South foes, the Saints are favored by 2 and the over/under is 49. Both offenses can move the ball when they need to and while the Panthers struggled last week at home against Seattle, the Saints had no such problem with the Packers in prime time on Sunday night in the Big Easy. Saints cover the 2 and win in the Tar Heel State.

Injury Report

New Orleans
OUT: LB David Hawthorne (hand), RB Austin Johnson (knee), RB Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: C Jonathan Goodwin (knee, ankle), TE Jimmy Graham (shoulder), LB Kyle Knox (ankle), RB Khiry Robinson (forearm)

Carolina
OUT: T Byron Bell (knee, elbow), CB Bene’ Benwikere (ankle), WR Corey Brown (concussion), G Amini Silatolu (calf), G Trai Turner (knee), RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: S Thomas DeCoud (hamstring), DT Kawann Short (ankle)
PROBABLE: T Nate Chandler (thigh), RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle), LB Jason Williams (hip)

BROADCAST: NFL Network at 8:25 p.m.: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson (Field reporter). Westwood One: Ian Eagle, Mike Mayock, Derek Rackley (Field reporter). SIRIUS: 88 (WestWood 1), 93 (New Orleans), 92 (Carolina). XM: 88 (WestWood 1), 225 (New Orleans), 226 (Carolina).

Weather: Clear and 53 degrees.

Broadcast information and injury report courtesy the National Football League; odds courtesy Don Best and USA Today; weather information courtesy The Weather Channel.

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