CHARLOTTE – With a chance to win the NFC South and knock his hometown team out of playoff contention in front of the home folks, you'd think quarterback Cam Newton would be like a kid at Christmas.
"It's just like any other game," Newton said.
In other words, Newton is like a kid at Christmas.
"They're all big for him," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He wants to win them all and perform well in all of them. This one is no different."
Newton, who grew up in the Atlanta area, will lead the Panthers into the Georgia Dome on Sunday for a winner-take-all affair. The winner will host a playoff game; the loser will be home for the holidays.
"Getting a win is the only thing that matters to me," Newton said. "The other fluff, that's not important to me. I just want to get the win."
That's not to say that Newton's focus on football will make him a Scrooge come Christmas – just the opposite.
When the team returned to the locker room Christmas Eve after rain forced practice into the Crown Ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center, every player had presents from Newton in the form of either headphones or tablets awaiting them.
Thomas DeCoud was the first or at least the loudest to react, prancing around in celebration like a college player in one of those uniform reveal videos (in this case fellow safety ).
"It's the season of giving, of celebrating life and friendships, of celebrating opportunity," Newton said. "That's what it's all about."
Newton recounted his favorite childhood Christmas memory: the year when he was stunned to get a Warrick Dunn jersey, a Playstation and a bike.
"Now I take on the role of Santa," Newton said.
This weekend, after all the presents have been opened, Newton hopes to put a bow on Carolina's strong finish to the regular season.
"We have Christmas tomorrow, but we still have to be prepared come Sunday," he said. "I'm chomping at the bit over the opportunity we have."