CHARLOTTE – The Panthers are in an enviable position entering the final game of the regular season.
They've got the best record in the NFL at 14-1, and they have a first-round postseason bye already in hand. But there is unfinished business to tend to in Week 17.
Carolina hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday knowing that a win will clinch the top seed in the NFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
"We're trying to finish off the season strong to create good habits," quarterback Cam Newton said. "Not only that, but we are trying to have homefield advantage and not hope that somebody else is going to lose."
That somebody is the Arizona Cardinals, who are trying to unseat the Panthers for the NFC's top seed. They can accomplish that with a win over the Seattle Seahawks coupled with a Panthers loss.
It took 16 weeks for the Panthers to lose their first game of the season, a 20-13 defeat against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday, and they certainly don't want to carry a two-game losing streak into the postseason.
"It's important that we take care of our business for a couple reasons," head coach Ron Rivera said. "One, we would love to be able to secure (homefield) all the way through. But two, you want to finish on a high note. We want to have a good feeling."
The Buccaneers, losers of three consecutive games, will look to make a statement of their own in their last game of the year.
"For us, we're not going to the playoffs, but this is our three-time division champ, one of the best teams in the league and if we go forward we feel like we can, we want people to see what we'll be in the future," Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith said. "But the best way to do that is to play well in the present."
Tampa Bay will try earn a win at Bank of America Stadium, something no visiting team has done since Week 11 of the 2014 season.
That said, the Panthers are glad to be back at home to wrap up the regular season, knowing full well how beneficial it would be to compete for the NFC crown in their building in front of their crowd.
"It means a lot to have people come through Charlotte," safety Kurt Coleman said. "It says something about the testament to our fans. We want to play in front of our fans. They bring a lot of life to us."
Added Newton: "That's going to be our edge."