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What to watch: Panthers vs. Saints

Posted Dec 20, 2013

The Saints gained the upper hand in the NFC South when they defeated the Panthers two weeks ago in New Orleans.

But after a Carolina victory over the Jets and Saints loss to St. Louis, the NFC South is up for grabs as the two teams are tied for first once again.

Now the Panthers get a chance for redemption, and more importantly, first place in the division when they host the Saints at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.

"We know what this game implies," safety Mike Mitchell said. "We know we have a lot riding on it. That's in our minds."

A win puts Carolina in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Here's what they need to do to get it.

LESSONS LEARNED: Mitchell said the Panthers learned humility and discipline when a 31-13 loss to New Orleans in Week 14 snapped their eight-game winning streak.

"It was critical for us to see that," he said. "When you are humbled it makes you hungry."

In addition to the intangible lessons, we'll see if the Panthers learned how to better defend quarterback Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense the second time around.

"We need to do some things that will be a little bit different but not too drastic," Mitchell said. "We are going to do what we do. It's more about the aggressiveness and the execution."

Added linebacker Thomas Davis: "We can't let them dictate what we do."

The Panthers hope to dictate things on Sunday, and a disruptive pass rush is a good place to start.

RED ZONE REDEMPTION: In the first meeting against the Saints, the Panthers jumped out to an early 6-0 lead courtesy of two Graham Gano field goals.

It was an advantage, but it wasn't enough, and the Panthers know they must score touchdowns when they enter the red zone against the Saints.

"We have to get that fixed. You are not going to make playoff runs kicking field goals," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We are usually pretty good down there in the red zone. The last two weeks, for whatever reason, we've sputtered a little bit. We'll get it addressed. We'll get it fixed."

ROOKIE VS. HARDY: It was documented earlier this week, but it's worth mentioning again.

New Orleans rookie left tackle Terron Armstead will take his first offensive snap of the season when he starts against the Panthers.

How he performs against defensive end Greg Hardy is perhaps the most critical matchup to watch.  

HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: The Saints used a raucous home crowd to their advantage when they defeated the Panthers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Week 14.

Now the tables are turned. The Panthers are 6-1 at Bank of America Stadium and have benefited from tremendous fan support all year long.

The Saints are 3-4 on the road and have had trouble shaking the label that they're vulnerable away from the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Panthers fans no doubt hope to give them more trouble on Sunday.

GAME DAY HAPPENINGS
EVENT DESCRIPTION
Panthers in the Park Located at Romare Bearden Park in Third Ward between Church Street and Mint Street and open from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Free, interactive area offers fun for the entire family with appearances by the TopCats, Sir Purr and PurrCussion and the Fuel Up to Play 60 Kids Combine, which includes activities like the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, wide receiver/quarterback challenge, TopCats dance studio and inflatable obstacle course. Play games at the Aquafina "Drink Up" display. Learn about protecting your home from CPI Security. Meet Santa Claus from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Panthers Lair Located on the corner of Mint Street and Morehead Street and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with TopCats signing autographs and posing for photos at the 107.9 The Link booth from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Sir Purr appearing throughout the morning. Discover a wide range of services, charge your phone, take the "It Can Wait Pledge" and register to win prizes at the AT&T Connection Zone. Visit the Electrolux mobile experience showroom and see new appliances on the market. Stop by one of Charlotte's best food trucks at Queen City Q. Area also features a DJ and offers food and drink sales.
Pregame Performance: Street Corner Symphony
Invocation Fr. Mark Lawlor - St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Charlotte, N.C.
Presentation
Of Colors
United States Air Force 14th Weather Squadron Special Ceremonies Team - Asheville, N.C.
National Anthem Monique Benabou
Halftime Brian McKnight musical performance

BAG POLICY: The National Football League bag policy designed to enhance safety will be strictly enforced on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. Under the policy, approved bags must meet the following criteria:

• Small clutch purse no larger than 4.5" x 6.5"

• Any transparent plastic or vinyl bag no larger than 12" x 6" x 12"

• Seat pad that does not contain zippers, clasps, etc., and is not encased in vinyl.

The Panthers will provide a clear, plastic gallon size bag to fans who bring non-compliant bags to the stadium. Fans may obtain a bag at one of five tent locations: near the practice field, Graham Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, corner of Mint Street and Stonewall Street, corner of Morehead Street and Mint Street, or near the Morehead Street entrance to the stadium.

The North and East gates of Bank of America Stadium have been renovated to provide improved access with additional screening points of entry. For the most efficient, effective and quickest entry into the stadium, officials recommend the following:

• Arrive at the stadium gates 30 minutes earlier than you have in the past.

• Refrain from bringing items that require a bag check.

Review the complete list of prohibited items and bag policy.