On Sept.16, Carolina whipped New Orleans, 35-27, in its 2012 season home opener.
That led to some premature confidence, as best expressed in this quote from Cam Newton after the game. "The vibe is changing," Newton said. "Not only for this team, but for this whole organization."
Well, no. It didn't. The Panthers didn't win again until November, and by then the season was in shambles and general manager Marty Hurney had lost his job. The team has since played well for the most part, going 4-1 over their last five games, but the terrible start means that the Panthers (6-9) will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
New Orleans is also playing well now, but was likewise doomed by a poor start. The Saints have gone 7-4 since starting 0-4. Sunday's game probably won't look like a contest between two losing teams, but that's what it ultimately is.
-- In case you missed my earlier column, I am advocating that team owner Jerry Richardson give coach Ron Rivera a third year to try and get the team turned around. I believe Rivera has gotten better as a coach and that to change out the entire coaching staff again would be a "one step forward, two steps back" approach.
-- The Saints and Panthers have had very similar seasons in several respects besides the slow starts. They can play beautifully. They are responsible for both of 13-2 Atlanta's losses this season. And they can play horribly. They are also responsible for 2-13 Kansas City's two wins.
-- One thing about the Saints: they play entertaining football. Their average score this season is 28-27. The Panthers both score and allow about a touchdown less than that. I think this game will be a high-scoring season finale, and that Carolina will play just well enough to win its fourth straight game. My prediction: Carolina 37, New Orleans 33.