Saints-Panthers Preview

The Carolina Panthers haven't let injuries to one of the league's premier defensive players and their top wide receiver stop them from moving to the verge of their best start in 12 years.

The winless New Orleans Saints, meanwhile, are hopeful Drew Brees' injured shoulder won't be a hindrance in Sunday's visit to Carolina.

The Panthers are without 1,000-yard receiver Kelvin Benjamin this season because of a knee injury and linebacker Luke Kuechly was forced to sit out for the first time in his career last weekend because of a concussion, ending a streak of 49 consecutive regular-season starts.

The Panthers are hopeful they can get the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year back this week, but they've been competent with A.J. Klein manning his spot, allowing just 17 points over six quarters.

They yielded all of those points in a 24-17 win against Houston in last Sunday's home opener. Cam Newton connected on a pair of touchdowns and ran for a score.

The Panthers also started 2-0 last season but followed with a 1-8-1 stretch before recovering to win their final four and a second straight NFC South title.

"We were beat up a lot more (last season). We were a younger team. There are a lot of other reasons," coach Ron Rivera said of his team's swoon.

The Panthers have opened 3-0 three times in franchise history and went a team-best 5-0 in their latest such start in 2003. Their current six-game win streak in the regular season is their longest since taking a franchise-record eight in a row in 2013.

Carolina started its run with a 41-10 rout in New Orleans on Dec. 7, with Newton accounting for four touchdowns.

It was unclear earlier in the week if he would get the chance to outduel Brees again with the Saints quarterback dealing with a bruised rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. However, Brees says he is confident he will be able to play.

Brees, who did not throw at all at Wednesday's practice, says the key is balancing rest and rehab through the week so that he's as strong as possible by kickoff.

Brees took a hit to his shoulder in the second quarter of last weekend's 26-19 loss to Tampa Bay and came up short of consecutive 300-yard performances to open this season. He had 255 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that got the Saints within four points.

New Orleans had a chance to send it into overtime with a drive that went to the Buccaneers' 27-yard line with 16 seconds to go, but Brees' final two passes fell incomplete. Receiver Willie Snead said he noticed the quarterback's arm was hurting and he was having trouble passing deep.

Brees hasn't been forced to miss a start because of injury since signing with New Orleans before the 2006 season.

"Drew's a warrior," Snead said. "He's going to do everything in his power to make sure he's ready to go. He's just that type of guy. He's been doing this for a long time and he knows how to do it."

The Saints, who haven't started 0-3 since dropping their first four games in 2012, won 28-10 at Carolina on Oct. 30. Brees showed his usual efficiency, completing 70.6 percent of his passes while throwing for a score and running for another.

Newton connected on just 10 of 28 passes for a career-worst 35.7 completion rate. He went 21 of 33 (63.6 percent) in the rout at the Superdome, and Jonathan Stewart had the second-best rushing performance of his career with 155 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown.

Stewart has 118 yards in his first two games, just seven more than Newton.

"We've got to get after it against New Orleans," Rivera said. "They're a good football team that's 0-2. At the end of the day, you throw the records out because they're a divisional opponent. They know us we know them. They're going to come in here fired up and ready to play."

Neither Mark Ingram nor Khiry Robinson have totaled 80 yards this season for New Orleans, which is averaging 79.0 on the ground. That's among Payton's many concerns.

The Saints have also been docked for 17 penalties with 10 for 115 yards coming last Sunday. They also had three turnovers in that game.

"There are a number of things we've got to work on cleaning up and there's a sense of urgency, obviously, to get those things corrected or we'll have the same type of result," Payton said.