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What to watch for in Saints-Panthers 'TNF' tilt

Don't forget: "Thursday Night Football" will be broadcast exclusively on NFL Network for the remainder of the season, starting with this week's Panthers-Saints clash. The pregame show will begin at 6 p.m. ET.

For the second week in a row, first place is on the line for Thursday Night Football. This time it's the NFC South lead on the line.

Here's what to watch for as the New Orleans Saintstravel to Charlotte to take on Cam Newton and the Panthers:

  1. Carolina's offensive line has been a problem all season, and it could get worse this week. Undrafted rookie David Foucault will protect Newton's blindside against Junior Galette and the Saints' pass rush with Byron Bell nursing a knee injury. The Panthers will also be without starting guards Amini Silatolu and Trai Turner, making this an inviting matchup for Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks up front.
  1. DeAngelo Williams is not only playing for the first time in a month, he's also starting, coach Ron Rivera confirmed to NFL Media's Jeff Darlington. It's a bit of a surprise, as Jonathan Stewart is coming off the best game by a Panthers running back all season. As always, look for Rivera and play-caller Mike Shula to ride the hot hand in this backfield.
  1. Neither Pierre Thomas (shoulder) nor Khiry Robinson (forearm) practiced this week, which is excellent news for the Saints. That means coach Sean Payton won't be tempted to reduce Mark Ingram's workload following a career-high 172 yards versus the Packerslast week. Averaging a gaudy 5.7 yards per carry going back to late last season, Ingram is among the NFL leaders in forced missed tackles and percentage of runs over four yards. Payton will be handsomely rewarded if he saddles Ingram up as a workhorse in the second half of the season.
  1. The Panthers will counter Ingram with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, hailed by Drew Brees this week as the best linebacker pair in the league. Brees must still have visions of Carolina's NFC South-clinching victory last December, when Kuechly and Davis turned in one of the most impressive performances by a linebacker duo in recent memory.
  1. Thursday's matchup will feature two of the leading Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates in wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Brandin Cooks. Benjamin leads all rookies in touchdowns (five), is second in receiving yards (573) and third in receptions (38). Cooks is first in receptions with 40. Cooks is coming off his most productive game of the season, while Benjamin nearly had a pair of touchdowns versus the Seahawks in addition to outleaping All-Pros Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman on a 51-yard catch.
  1. Jimmy Graham is trending in the right direction after suffering a painful shoulder injury in Week 5. He re-emerged with 59 yards and a touchdown versus the Packers last week after being held without a catch in the loss at Detroit the week before. Look for him to resume his role as Brees' favorite red-zone threat, perhaps drawing coverage-specialist Thomas Davis in an attractive matchup.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down the league at the midway point and previews Saints-Panthers. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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