New battleground for Cam Newton's homecoming

CHARLOTTE – Sunday marks Cam Newton's seventh trip to Atlanta to face the Falcons as quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. But it'll be a different setting this time.

After hosting games at the Georgia Dome for 25 years, the Falcons opened their new home – Mercedes-Benz Stadium – this season.

"This is a new dome," Newton said. "I guess it's time to create more lasting memories."

The old Georgia Dome was a memorable place for the Atlanta native. Newton's first game there was the 2010 SEC Championship, when he led the Auburn Tigers past South Carolina in a blowout.

In 2013, Newton claimed his first NFC South title with a 21-20 win over in Atlanta in Week 17. The Panthers visited the Falcons for the regular season finale again in 2014, and Carolina was victorious in the winner-takes-the-division contest.

The 2015 visit to the Georgia Dome was memorable for different reasons, as Atlanta ruined the Panthers' perfect season in Week 16.

For Newton, the stadium is irrelevant. The outcome is all that matters, especially in a rivalry that's so personal for the Atlanta native under center for Carolina.

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"Last year's offseason was extremely miserable," Newton said of the Falcons' run to the Super Bowl. "But the fact that they didn't win the Super Bowl, it was like, 'OK, finally.' There were a lot of people coming out of the woodwork claiming to be Falcons fans.

"In a lot of ways, I'm a target just to get people's reaction. It's kind of fun, especially to hear certain things."

But this is much more than just a personal battle between Newton and his hometown team.

With a win Sunday, the Panthers can claim the NFC South crown if the Buccaneers beat the Saints. With loses from the Vikings and Rams, Carolina could move all the way up to the No. 2 seed.

The Falcons, meanwhile, need a win or a Seahawks' loss to make the playoffs. And you know Newton and the Panthers would love to end Atlanta's season.

"We're playing for a lot," Newton said. "I guess it's put up or shut up time come Sunday."

View photos from the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Falcons.

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