CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers are taking their playoff hopes to the "Black Hole."
They hope to come out of the other side with them intact.
"We can't afford to drop another football game," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "We're going to face a very, very tough team this week, and we've got to be ready to go."
The opponent at what is officially known as the Oakland Coliseum is the Oakland Raiders, who will enter Sunday tied with the New England Patriots for the best record in the AFC at 8-2.
The Panthers, at 4-6, are pushing to keep their playoff hopes afloat, and they're embracing the challenge of trying to stay in the race before one of the most notorious fan bases in all of sports.
Davis is one of just four Panthers players – along with defensive end Charles Johnson, center Ryan Kalil and running back Jonathan Stewart – who was on the roster the last time Carolina played at Oakland back in 2008. That's the longest current gap between visits to an opposing stadium for the Panthers, and they're longing for the challenge.
"Believe me or not, I'm ready to get out there," wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin said. "I've never been in that atmosphere to get to see it, but we're going to feed off that.
"I kind of like away games because it's different. The odds are against you, so we just have to go out there and play our game."
While Raiders fans are known for being downright cruel at times to visiting players, the team has been more hospitable than you might think. While Oakland is 6-0 away from home this season, the Raiders are 2-2 at the "Black Hole."
And there are reasons beyond that for the Panthers to pack a healthy dose of hope with them.
Since starting the season 1-5, the Panthers have won three of four games to keep hope alive for becoming just the third team in the Super Bowl era to reach the playoffs after such a slow start. At the least, they need to win three of their next four games to maintain any shot at a fourth consecutive playoff appearance heading into a pair of NFC South showdowns to conclude the regular season.
This stretch starts with a 10-day trip away from home, first in Oakland and then in Seattle against teams with a combined record of 15-4-1.
The Raiders, however, haven't been blowing teams out during their impressive run, winning just twice this season by more than a touchdown while being beat in both of their losses by at least a touchdown.
Late, great Raiders owner Al Davis famously said, "Just win, baby!" and that's exactly what his team has been finding ways to do so far. At this crucial juncture in the season, it's a mantra the Panthers have adopted.
"We've got to win. It's win or go home," Benjamin said. "We're coming to play. They're going to come at us with their best, so we need to come with our best."
LAST TIME THEY PLAYED
Photos from Carolina's win over Oakland.