CHARLOTTE -- You can always tell which themes Carolina Panthers coach John Fox has been drilling into his players' heads each week. Mostly, that's because they repeat them back when they are asked unrelated questions.
This week's motivational ploy is the difficulty of being an NFC South road team.
The division is a league-best 26-3 at home this season, and the only three losses were to out-of-league foes. New Orleans has one of them, when Minnesota beat the Saints on Monday Night Football. The others were Denver's win at Atlanta and San Diego's victory at Tampa Bay last week.
So that's the talking point, seemingly regardless of the questions asked.
Fox was asked this week about the challenge of pressuring quarterback Drew Brees, when he came up with this one:
"We've played them before; they know us, we know them," he said. "They are a good football team that's got a chance to be 9-7. We're playing them at their place, and in our division this year that hasn't been an easy row to hoe.
"It will be big challenges. We've got a four-game season coming up. Whether it starts this week or next week, we need to get on a roll."
Likewise, running back DeAngelo Williams was asked about the emotional falloff after last week's loss in New York.
"This holds the same weight as last week: a first-round bye and a guaranteed home game," Williams said. "Anything can happen, especially in our division, the NFC South. Winning away from home in our division has been tough. So we know we've got to play our game. We've got to play ball control, especially against their high-powered offense."
If nothing else, give Fox credit for keeping his players on message.
• THE BIG NOT-HARD: If you put any credence into streaks, this weekend could be a good one for the Panthers. Namely, they almost never lose in New Orleans.
The Panthers hold a 15-12 edge in the all-time series, but they enjoy a trip to Bourbon Street more than many Mardi Gras revelers.
The Panthers have won six straight games there, with Fox and quarterback Jake Delhomme never tasting defeat in that building.
In fact, with his one win in 1999, when then-coach Mike Ditka gave him a shot to lead the Saints late in the season, Delhomme has never lost a game he has started in the Superdome.
His Teurlings Catholic High School team lost in the Louisiana state semifinals his senior year, costing him a chance to play there. He also played there twice in college with Louisiana-Lafayette, beating Tulane in 1993 and 1995.
• CATCHING THE BEST: The Panthers defense hasn't gotten much of a break all season, and this weekend is no different.
Thanks to some scheduling quirks, and the fact the NFC South's much stronger than anyone's anticipated, the Panthers have played most of their games against the league's top offenses. Seven of their 16 games have been against the league's top 10 (New Orleans twice, Atlanta twice, Denver, New York and Arizona), and four others have been against teams in the top half (adding Green Bay, San Diego and Tampa Bay twice). Even the outliers have some credentials, as Minnesota is 17th overall but third in rushing.
• EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers got defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu (ankle) and tight end Jeff King (knee) back to practice on a limited basis Thursday. Both missed Wednesday's work. Wide receiver Muhsin Mu-hammad (foot) was back to full participation Thursday as well.
Tight end Dante Rosario (illness) didn't work on Christmas, and defensive tackle Damione Lewis (shoulder) and wide receiver Kenny Moore (hamstring) were also out.