In a wide open NFC South, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers appear to be headed in different directions. The Panthers sunk further with a home loss a week ago, while the Saints may have saved their season with a huge win over the Packers. Heading into Thursday Night Football, however, the Saints need to finally get a road win if they’re going to make any real noise in 2014. The same can be said for Carolina, who have been extremely up and down in a 3-4-1 start.

So, who are these teams really and how will week nine’s edition of TNF unfold? Let’s break down the key talking points to find out:

Home, Sweet Home

The Saints are undefeated (3-0) in their dome and winless on the road (0-4). Clearly a tale of two teams, the Saints look pretty darn good on their own field and simply can’t close the deal when they’re on someone else’s. The good news is that they haven’t been getting absolutely slapped around when they go on the road, though. In fact, they lost a shootout to the Falcons in week on, lost by two to the Browns in week two and lost by one to the Lions two weeks ago. Winning on the road isn’t easy, but New Orleans has been close and they’ll eventually get that elusive first road win. And once they do, that could quickly turn it into several road wins and suddenly they’re on top of the NFC South. If that’s to be a reality, that first road win needs to come tonight in Carolina.

Unleash Mark Ingram

Ingram put up 170 rushing yards last week. No, you read that right. Facing a Panthers run defense that really hasn’t been great in 2014, he’s a legit threat to hang another 100 this week. Again, the Saints are a different beast away from home, but leaning on Ingram would be wise in a hostile environment. If they do, Ingram could respond well and dominate the Panthers’ run defense.

Cam Newton Can’t Be Found

Newton is a stud, but he’s battled rib and ankle issues all season. The Panthers have looked absolutely lost on offense at times and only once have they gotten any real productivity from him as a runner, while their actual rushing offense seems to be a resting corpse. This tells us two things. First, Newton probably isn’t healthy and it’s unlikely he will be anytime soon. Secondly, their mangled offensive line isn’t hacking it.

All of that equates to poor pass protection, a rattled quarterback, a bad running game and an across the board inconsistent offense. Week nine could bring the cure, though, as the Saints really aren’t very good defensively. Carolina is at home, too, so if they decide to take control of this game by the legs of Newton and their running games, they¬†they’ll be tough to beat.

Jimmy Graham, 100%?

Of course, even if the Panthers do muster up some offense and the Saints’ road woes trickle into TNF, that doesn’t mean it will be enough to win. It could be even tougher if Jimmy Graham (shoulder) is even healthier just four days after scoring on the Packers. If he is, stud linebacker Luke Kuechly could get tired out trying to keep up with him. After all, in two games against a borderline elite Panthers defense last year, Graham caught 11 balls for three touchdowns. An even remotely healthy Graham could be bad news for Carolina.

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