Where: Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans (turf, indoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (Fox)
Spread: Saints by 5.5
Records: Panthers (6-9; NFC South 2-3); Saints (7-8; NFC South 3-2)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- Sept. 16, 2012: Panthers 35, Saints 25; Jan. 1, 2012: Saints 45, Panthers 17. Series record: Saints lead 18-17.
What matters: Both teams close their seasons playing their best ball and wondering what might have been. The Panthers have won three straight, and four of five, but it doesn't wash away the sting of a 2-8 start to the season. The Saints lost their first four, including Week 2 at Carolina, but have scored 75 points in wins over Tampa and Dallas the past two weeks.
Who matters: Carolina LB Luke Kuechly was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, but the rookie leads the NFL with 151 tackles, setting a new team single-season record. New Orleans WR Marques Colston has 1,102 receiving yards, his fourth straight season with more than 1,000 and the sixth time in his seven-year career that he's topped that mark.
Key matchup: Saints QB Drew Brees vs. the Carolina secondary. In Week Two, the Panthers intercepted Brees twice and sacked him once, making up for a perceived slight to end last season, when Brees kept throwing late in a blowout to help the team set offensive records. Fifteen weeks and more than a dozen injuries later, the Panthers defense looks significantly different.
Injuries of note: C/G Geoff Hangartner (foot) hasn't practiced this week for Carolina, and, after testing his injured ankle on Wednesday, RB Jonathan Stewart missed Thursday's practice. Saints CB Jabari Greer (concussion), RB Pierre Thomas (knee) and DT Akiem Hicks (knee) haven't practiced.
Inside stuff: Since Kuechly moved to the MLB position in Week 5, the Panthers are giving up 92.6 fewer yards a game and ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense during that span.
Connections: The two division rivals don't have many players that switch sides. TE Jeremy Shockey, a Panther last season after winning a Super Bowl with the Saints, is the last player to suit up against his former team in this rivalry.
Stat you should know: Halfway through the Panthers' last four-game winning streak, President Barack Obama defeated John McCain in the 2008 election. The Panthers have won three straight.
|The home of the Super Bowl|
Record watch: Cam Newton has 7,672 passing yards in his first two NFL season, just 202 behind Peyton Manning, who holds the NFL record.
Looking ahead: Both teams have been eliminated from the postseason. The Saints look to recover from a season that was wiped out before it began, thanks to the fallout from the bounty-related suspensions. The Panthers will look at changes in personnel and the coaching staff to try to support Newton's development.
Prediction: Panthers 21, Saints 14
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Carolina Panthers from blogger Shawn Krest, follow @CBSPanthers.