CHARLOTTE – When the Panthers won their 15th game of the season in Week 17, they clinched homefield advantage in the playoffs.
Homefield advantage is ideal for a number of reasons. There's no travel involved. Players and coaches remain settled in their home base routine. Carolina hasn't lost a home game since Week 11 of the 2014 season.
But what's most exciting for the Panthers is another opportunity to play in front of their crowd.
"It's night and day when you can play in front of your home crowd and everybody is into the game and everybody is rooting for you," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "It means a lot to us, and we're excited that we clinched homefield advantage so that we can play in front of our fans throughout the playoffs."
When the Panthers were riding a 14-game undefeated streak, they knew the fan support was reaching new heights. But that was made even clearer after the team returned home from its only loss of the year against Atlanta.
"You know that the fans are going to be there when you win, but when we came home after a loss, they were even more excited," linebacker Luke Kuechly said, recalling the frenzied scene at the Bank of America Stadium parking lot.
"You could see they had our backs, and that means a lot. When you have the city behind you, it's even more fun."
Added tight end Greg Olsen: "The vibe in this city right now is incredible. The best I've ever felt in my nine years. We are going to fight like hell to bring this thing all the way to the end."
The support around the city before and after games has been uplifting for a tight-knit team on a mission. And the support inside Bank of America Stadium on game day has helped raise Carolina's play throughout the season.
"You just want to do something to make the crowd go wild," cornerback Josh Norman said "The love that comes through is so powerful. It reaches out and hits you in the face. I just want to let it out and be a madman to it. That's just how I am. The fans pay for a ticket to get in, and we're going to give them a show."
The top-seeded Panthers know their passionate fans will make playing on their home field in the upcoming NFC Divisional Playoff as advantageous as possible.
"It's critical for us," Olsen said. "The crowd noise and the energy in the stadium is going to be big. We encourage our crowd to keep that up and let's take it another level."