CHARLOTTE – Linebacker Luke Kuechly is as meticulous as anyone in his preparation for opponents, but the learning curve isn't quite as harrowing when facing a division foe for the second time in a given season.
Still, that doesn't mean Kuechly will spend his time at the movies rather than watching film leading up to Sunday's rematch at the New Orleans Saints.
"You have to make sure you're on top of things," Kuechly said. "When you play somebody twice a year, you have a general idea of what they're going to do, but there's always a wrinkle here and there that you've got to be ready for."
The Panthers have smoothed out any wrinkles in recent rematches with division foes. Each of the last eight times they've faced NFC South opponents New Orleans, Atlanta or Tampa Bay for the second time in a given season, the Panthers have been victorious. Four of the eight times, Carolina had lost the earlier meeting.
And lest you think the streak is related to homefield advantage, six of the eight victories in the streak have been on the road.
A lot of credit goes to preparation, from the coaches taking advantage of extra time this week coming off a Thursday game to the weekly process of making sure opponents – especially familiar opponents – aren't in position to exploit weaknesses or predictable trends.
"From week to week, coaches have to make sure everybody has taken care of those issues," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "A lot of times you'll go into the next game and teams will try to run the same thing, and you either have it corrected or you don't. Until you do, it's going to keep showing up every week."
Kuechly said in division games, opponents try to take advantage of the teams' long history.
"There is a little bit of carryover, but at the same time you've got to realize that they probably threw something at you the first game that they're going play off of this game," he said. "Some guys set stuff up so they can come back and try to hit a play on you. I'm sure they've got some stuff up their sleeve. That's what the Saints do; they're creative on offense."
When the Panthers' offense is on the field, they can't bank of familiarity to point them in the right direction. As the only defense in the NFL yielding more than 30 points a game, the Saints are more than willing to try new things – as evidenced by the change at defensive coordinator prior to New Orleans' last game with Dennis Allen taking over for Rob Ryan.
"Obviously you can't change everything on defense, but you do understand that there's a new person calling the plays," Cotchery said. "His fingerprint will be on there a little bit, so we've got to be prepared for wrinkles that they may come up with."
Based on recent history, the Panthers will be prepared.
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against the Saints.