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 Jordan Gross said. "The only thing that bugged me is that we didn't stop it."
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 Thomas Davis said. "It's going to be up to us how we finish it. That's the best part of playing this game – you can determine the outcome."