We now know a lot more about who the Panthers will play in their first home playoff game in five years, which will be Sunday, Jan.12th, 2014, at 1:05 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium.
There are five other teams in the NFC playoff race, and No.2 seed Carolina is only eligible to play three of them (No.3 Philadelphia, No.4 Green Bay and No.5 San Francisco) in the divisional round game. Here are my odds of who is the most likely opponent for Carolina and why:
1) PHILADELPHIA (50 percent). The Eagles are the No.3 NFC playoff seed and host sixth seed New Orleans Saturday at 8:10 p.m. The most likely scenario for Carolina is that the Eagles win this game at home against the Saints (who were 3-5 on the road this year) and come to Charlotte the next week.
If the Eagles win, the result of the Green Bay-San Francisco game DOES NOT MATTER in terms of who the Panthers will play in their Jan.12 game. That's because the Panthers, as the No.2 seed, must play the higher-seeded NFC team left after the first-round games. If the No.3 Eagles win, that has to be Philadelphia.
The Eagles would be a very difficult challenge for Carolina's defense, with their creative, fast offense led by quarterback Nick Foles and running back LeSean McCoy, who led the NFL in rushing this year. Their defense, however, is erratic, as Dallas quarterback Kyle Orton showed Sunday night.
2) SAN FRANCISCO (30 percent). The 49ers travel to play at Green Bay on Sunday, Jan.5th at 4:40 p.m. This game only comes into play for Carolina IF No.6 New Orleans can upset No.3 Philadelphia Saturday night in Philly.
If that happens, the Saints automatically will travel to play No.1 seed Seattle the following weekend, because the Seahawks are guaranteed the lowest remaining seed after the first-round games, and you can't get lower than No.6.
So if the Saints pull that upset, then the winner of the 49ers-Packers game will come to Charlotte. Even though that game is at Green Bay, I believe the 49ers will win it. San Francisco ended the season on a six-game winning streak, made the Super Bowl last year and, at 12-4, had a far better regular-season record and a better defense than the Packers (8-7-1).
3) GREEN BAY (20 percent). Same scenario as No.2 -- New Orleans would have to win first. Then the Packers would need to beat San Francisco. If they could manage that, Aaron Rodgers would come to Charlotte to face the Panther defense. Green Bay, in my mind, would be the best first-round matchup of the three for Carolina -- but at this point no one is easy.
And if the Panthers (12-4) win that Jan.12th game (in which they will wear black jerseys, if you are thinking that far ahead)? They would play in the NFC championship game Sunday, Jan.19th, at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. That game would be at Carolina if Seattle gets upset on Jan.11th, when it hosts its first playoff game. It would be at Seattle if the Seahawks win.
If you are interested in trying to buy some of the approximately 7,000 seats the Panthers will put on sale for the Jan.12 playoff game on Wednesday, follow this link for more information. I expect those tickets will be gone in 5-10 minutes given all the outlets Ticketmaster has, so be ready. But DON'T show up at Bank of America Stadium -- its box office will NOT be open for this 10 a.m. sale on Wednesday.