CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers are on an eerily similar late-season path.
Last year, they won four out of five games to give them six wins leading up to a Week 17 matchup at New Orleans.
This year, they've won four out of five games to give them six wins leading up to a Week 17 matchup at New Orleans.
But Carolina wants a different ending this time.
"This will be a very good test as to where we are in terms of our development as a football team," head coach Ron Rivera said.
The Saints enjoyed a record-breaking day when they defeated the Panthers 45-17 in last season's finale.
New Orleans set NFL single-season records for offensive yards, team passing yards and first downs. Quarterback Drew Brees broke his own record for single-season completion percentage and set a new one for single-season completions.
"They were setting records and all that, and I would have done the same thing if I was them," left tackle
The 2012 Panthers are intent on stopping history from repeating itself, intent on securing the season-ending victory that eluded them a year ago.
"It's something you think about all offseason," Gross said of the finale. "Everybody wants to win the last game to send yourself into the offseason on a good note."
A win over the rival Saints – who are coming off back-to-back wins – would extend Carolina's winning streak to four games to end the season. It would also give the Panthers a 7-9 record – one more win they attained in 2011.
And a win would allow Carolina to finish second in the NFC South.
"I know there's the opportunity for us to finish second in the NFC South," Rivera said. "I'd be a great testament for how far we've come."
It's not first place and it's not a playoff berth, but a victory over the Saints would be a sign of progress.
And a fourth consecutive victory is the only way the Panthers want this season to end.
"We have an opportunity right now to go out and finish our season strong," linebacker