CHARLOTTE – In the process of building the Panthers from a 2-14 team to one that is now the top seed in the NFC entering its third consecutive playoff appearance, head coach Ron Rivera has never been opposed to a bit of borrowing.
He's solicited input from former coaching figures like Mike Ditka and John Madden, and he's looked around the current landscape and paid close attention to how the NFL's most consistent winners conduct their business.
The Seattle Seahawks represent just such a team, and over time the Panthers and Seahawks have come to resemble each other.
The Seahawks, however, still have something Carolina covets. Seattle is seeking a third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. The Panthers want to break up that run and break through themselves.
They had a chance at this juncture last year, but Carolina's .500 team wasn't quite up to the task against the reigning Super Bowl champions in the NFC Divisional round.
The Panthers get another chance Sunday, this time on their home turf.
"To be honest with you, I don't think we were ready for it (last year). We were excited to have a ticket to the dance," safety Roman Harper said. "This year we've got a better looking date because we're 15-1, and it's at home."
The Panthers and the Seahawks are similarly built, and for the first time in Rivera's tenure, the Panthers have reason to believe they're built to win the matchup in the postseason. They've already shown that they can do it, launching themselves full-throttle toward their 14-0 start to the season by rallying to knock off the Seahawks in Seattle back in Week 6.
It was Carolina's first victory over the Seahawks after four very competitive losses in Rivera's tenure.
"It was huge. Now all of a sudden there's that confidence, now there's that thought that, 'We can get this done,'" Rivera said. "Saying, 'We're close, we're close, we're close,' that's one thing. But to be able to say we've done it, that's a different thing."
Rivera, however, was quick to point out that in some ways, that game is ancient history. It was played 13 weeks ago, and both teams have undergone their share of changes since then.
Some things, however, never change.
"It's the same tough group," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said of the Seahawks. "You have to fight for every inch."
The teams have enjoyed similar success on defense the past three seasons, each featuring multiple playmakers along all three levels of their unit. Both have running games that can control the game, but both also are balanced on offense.
On Sunday, Carolina's No. 1 ranked scoring offense (31.3) will face Seattle's No. 1 ranked scoring defense (17.3).
"I just think it's two great teams that keep meeting up," wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. said. "We're similar. Both have top-five quarterbacks, top defenses in the league. The running games are about equal.
"You've just got to go out and compete – that's all it is. Sunday at one."
In the final analysis, Ginn's final words pretty much say it all. The individual matchups and the Xs and Os are one thing, but the bottom line is that both teams are built in a way that doesn't allow anything to come easily for opponents.
So something, as they say, has got to give.
The Panthers believe it's their time to take it.
"We know what they're going to do, and they pretty much know what we're going to do," quarterback Cam Newton said. "It's going to be the team that executes the best and eliminates turnovers the most – that's going to be the team that's going to win the football game.
"This isn't about payback. It's just a game that we've been preparing our tails off for. We know that those guys are going to be just as prepared. We have to find an edge in this game and play fast, physical Panthers football."
View the top photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez from Carolina's game against Seattle.