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NFL Carolina PanthersNew Orleans Saints

Panthers vs. Saints NFL Week 17 Preview

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers (6-9) and New Orleans Saints (7-8) are set to kick-off this Sunday at 1:00 PM EST in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Panthers head south in week 17 surging with momentum from a three game winning streak due in large part because of becoming self aware and playing lights-out on offense. There is no doubt that Carolina’s late season rise is bitter-sweet for Panthers fans who expected a lot more out of this club in 2012. Although, as bitter-sweet as things may be right now for the Panthers, the team will have a chance to bury their pungent NFC South rival Saints to complete a nice four gamer.

Of course, all of this truly can’t ease the pain for a season lost. Panthers’ die-hards will be forced for the fourth straight year in a row to watch somberly as the NFL Playoffs come and go. Eventually the buzz surrounding the NFL Draft will heat-up giving fans much needed optimism before yet another long summer offseason.

Before all of that can take place the Panthers and Saints must suit-up for one last battle. Both teams are mathematically eliminated from any postseason discussion, so expect an all or nothing type of shootout on Sunday.

The Panthers and Saints are surely geared for offensive fireworks, mainly because positive traction will be vital for either squad heading into the offseason. Sure, positive traction from a previous season might be overrated once training camp begins, but right now that’s all these two teams have to play for.

Defensively, the key for Carolina will be trying to slow down Drew Brees and the Saints passing attack, which is even more dangerous when Brees is in the safe confines of his home stadium.

So, at the end of a long 2012 for the Panthers and Saints; look for Sunday’s matchup to provide plenty of entertainment and drama with both teams having a lot to prove to the rest of the league before the curtain closes.

Robert Kester, Rant Sports Carolina Panthers Columnist. Contact @robertkester1