Having a losing record usually precludes NFL teams from contending in the division, but that isn’t the case in the NFC South. Both the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints enter “Thursday Night Football” in Week 9 with a chance to claim sole possession of first place, despite starting the night with more losses than victories.

It’s been a disappointing first half of 2014 for the Saints, who were expected to compete for the 2015 Super Bowl. While the offense has done its part, ranking fifth with 28.4 points per game, the defense has failed New Orleans. Only six teams have allowed more points per game than the Saints.

Carolina will have its hands full with New Orleans, having already allowed at least 37 points to four different teams. The pairing of Drew Brees and the Saints’ improved rushing attack will makes it difficult for the Panthers to keep New Orleans out of the end zone.

In each of the last two seasons, the Saints ranked 25th in rushing yards per game. Through eight weeks of the 2014 season, the team’s running game ranks seventh.  

“A lot of it has to do with their quarterback and his ability to throw the ball and his ability to see things,” Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said on a conference call with the media. “It looks like a lot of things that they do he controls. I like the development of their offensive line. I think their offensive line looks even more stout than the group they had last year, (with) a little more consistency than the group they had last year. I think it is a mix of things. It’s all developing and growing. I think the running backs are guys that are a good group.”

Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson are separated by just one yard as the Saints’ leading rushers. Robinson, though, could be forced to sit for a second straight game. He missed practice this week and is listed as questionable for Week 9. Running back Pierre Thomas is out.

Jimmy Graham is also listed as questionable on the injury report. The tight end played on Sunday, catching five receptions for 59 yards.

DeAngelo Williams has been on the Panthers’ injury report for much of the season, but he is probable in Week 9 and expected to return to the field. The running back has attempted just 25 rushes for 106 yards in 2014, after leading the team in rushing for two out of three seasons.

While Carolina will get a boost from a returning Williams, the onus will be placed on Cam Newton. The Panthers are undefeated when the quarterback throws for more than 250 yards, and he could have a big game against the league’s No.31 pass defense.

Start Time: 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NFL Network

Live Online Stream: A live stream of the game is available at the NFL Network site here

Point Spread: Saints by 3

Over/Under: 49.5 points

Prediction: Carolina over New Orleans, 26-23