The Carolina Panthers' lengthy regular-season winning streak began nearly one year ago with a blowout in New Orleans.
That run now has them squarely in the spotlight as the NFL's lone unbeaten team.
The Panthers will look to remain perfect Sunday and clinch the NFC South title with another victory against the scuffling Saints.
Article continues below ...
Carolina ended a six-game losing streak and seven-game winless stretch in emphatic fashion Dec. 7 by routing New Orleans 41-10 en route to its first back-to-back playoff appearances. The Panthers (11-0) haven't experienced defeat in 14 subsequent regular-season games and will have a little more rest heading into this one following a 33-14 victory in Dallas on Thanksgiving.
After outscoring its past three opponents 104-40, Carolina became the NFL's lone undefeated team with New England's overtime loss in Denver last Sunday.
''We aren't trying to get lured in by what others may think,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “Our main focus – and we are already reminded by what coach (Ron) Rivera says – is to become 12-0 first.
“We can't make it bigger than it is. Nothing has changed for our preparation. It's all about becoming 1-0 by the end of Sunday.”
With a victory this week, Carolina would tie the sixth-longest regular-season win streak in NFL history. Among the four teams that share that spot are the 1971-73 Miami Dolphins, who had the league's only perfect season in 1972.
“We don't want to get ahead of ourselves,” said Roman Harper, a safety on the 2009 Saints team that started 13-0 and won Super Bowl XLIV. “We are in a whole bunch of one-game playoffs. We have to control the controllable. … (But) we know that if we play the way we're capable of playing we have a great chance of winning every game.”
The Panthers will first try to clinch a third consecutive division title with a win or tie against New Orleans (4-7) or an Atlanta loss or tie at Tampa Bay. Carolina topped the Saints 27-22 on Sept. 27 at home with a string of 17 straight points in the second half.
Newton connected on his second touchdown pass and ran for a 13-yard score during that spurt. He finished with 315 yards in a duel with New Orleans backup Luke McCown, who went 31 of 38 for 310 yards.
Drew Brees, who sat out with an injured right shoulder, was part of the Saints' lowest-scoring performance in a decade last weekend, a 24-6 loss in Houston.
New Orleans registered its fewest points since a 10-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Dec. 4, 2005, and failed to score a touchdown for the first time since a 13-12 defeat to Detroit on Dec. 24, 2005.
Brees ended his 45-game streak with at least one passing TD – the fifth-longest in NFL history – to finish nine shy of matching his league record set from October 2009-November 2012.
“We have to continue to trust in what we have,” wide receiver Brandin Cooks said. “We can't sit there and pout about it. We've just got to get back to work.”
Brees has failed to top 300 yards in each of his last three games against Carolina, throwing four interceptions with three TDs. He'll try to keep New Orleans from losing four in a row for the first time since an 0-4 start in 2012.
The Saints nearly entered this matchup with a four-game home win streak but suffered a 34-28 overtime loss to Tennessee on Nov. 8 after blowing an early 21-10 lead.
The Panthers have won two of three in New Orleans following three consecutive defeats. Newton passed for three TDs and ran for another in last season's visit while Jonathan Stewart rushed for 155 yards – second-most in his career – and a 69-yard score.
Stewart had 52 yards in the win in September as Carolina relied more on its passing attack.
The Panthers will face a different Saints defensive coordinator this time in former Oakland coach Dennis Allen, who debuted in his new role last Sunday. The Saints fired Rob Ryan following a 47-14 loss in Washington on Nov. 15.
They gave up 362 yards to the Texans after allowing league-worst averages of 424.7 yards, 6.7 per play and 31.5 points in their first 10 games.
Carolina signed cornerback Cortland Finnegan on Monday with Charles Tillman (knee) having missed the past two games.
Defensive ends Mario Addison (ankle) and Kony Ealy (neck) are also reportedly dealing with injuries.