CHARLOTTE – Before the ink had even dried on the Panthers' workmanlike victory over NFC South foe Tampa Bay, talk turned to Carolina's next division test.
The New Orleans Saints hadn't yet played their Week 13 game when Panthers head coach Ron Rivera addressed the media Monday, a press conference that officially began a week of justified hype for the first-place showdown.
When the Saints kick off Monday night against the Seattle Seahawks, Rivera planned to have a front-row seat in his living room.
"I'll have my notepad with me. I'll have plenty of popcorn," Rivera said. "I'm going to watch it from start to finish and get as much as I can out of it."
Exactly how much can an NFL coach cull from watching "Boom" and the boys tell players to "C'mon Man!" while trading barbs and game predictions?
Probably more than you think.
"It's interesting, believe it or not, listening to what is said by the expert analysts," said Rivera, referring more to former NFL coach Jon Gruden's in-game takes than any pre-game takeaways. "I've always had a good rapport with Coach Gruden. We talk the same kind of language. Just listening to him, he always says something that catches your attention.
"There are a lot of good analysts that played and coached in this league, and sometimes you miss something. This is another perspective, another set of eyes. Might as well take advantage of it."
That's not to suggest the Panthers' plan of attack for New Orelans will be based on "Gruden's Grinder." After meeting with the media Monday, Rivera got in a workout and then began exercising his brain in the film room, plotting the best course of action against a Saints team that he's 3-1 against as a head coach.
Rivera has already seen a good amount of film since the Panthers share the same division with the Saints and therefore share a lot of common opponents.
"There are a lot of things they're doing offensively that make you say, 'Wow,' " Rivera said. "A lot of people thought last year that Jimmy Graham had an off-year, but now watching him he looks like he's in the form he was two years ago (when the tight end caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns). Darren Sproles, I've got a bottle of Tums next to me because he is a heck of a football player. And Drew Brees is having a classic Drew Brees season.
"Defensively, (first-year coordinator) Rob Ryan is doing what he does, and that's attacking. He's using different personnel groups and different defensive alignments, and he's attacking from all different directions."
Film study will be the backbone of the Panthers' plan, but there's no doubt that watching a team live can lead to additional insight, be it from Gruden or from Rivera's own observations. There's something about watching a game play out live that can provide a unique sense of things, a different one than comes from watching silent film in a silent room.
There's also another reason why Rivera is glad he's in position to watch the Saints live. It wouldn't be possible if their game wasn't on Monday, a schedule that gives the Panthers an extra day to prepare.
"I would like to hope it gives us a little bit of an advantage," Rivera said. "But then again, it's really how you prepare more than anything else."