NFL: NFC’s top seed at stake for Panthers today

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 21, 2008

By Tom Canavan
Associated Press
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. ó Fifteen games into the season, the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers are going to play for a nice prize: the NFC’s No. 1 seed, home-field advantage for the playoffs and a first-round bye.
Sound important? It is, but hardly a guarantee for success.
It didn’t do the Dallas Cowboys any good last year, when the Giants beat America’s Team in a conference semifinal en route to a Super Bowl title.
Consider this, too: Through the last decade, the 1999 St. Louis Rams are the only top-seeded NFC team to walk away with the Lombardi Trophy.
So what’s the value to the Panthers (11-3) and Giants (11-3) of earning the top seed in Sunday night’s game?
It’s getting to the Super Bowl. Six NFC top seeds have gone to the title game in the last decade, with three others making it to the conference championship contest. Dallas was the only team to lose in an NFC semifinal.
Make no mistake, being home has been good to the Panthers and Giants this season.
Carolina finished 8-0 at Bank of America Stadium. New York is 6-1 at Giants Stadium heading into its final regular-season home game.
“We want the bye, we want home-field advantage, we want the No. 1 overall seed, and one game gets all of that for us,” Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “Same goes for the Carolina Panthers, so I think both teams will go into the game focused and understanding what is at stake.”
Both teams also are experienced in playing in the big game. New York went to the Super Bowl last February, of course, and stunned the unbeaten New England Patriots. Carolina’s roster still has nine players who represented the Panthers in the title game in February 2004.
The Panthers and Giants enter Sunday night’s game at Giants Stadium heading in different directions.
Carolina has won three straight and six of seven, posting impressive wins the past two weeks over Tampa Bay in a Monday night NFC South first-place showdown, and following that last weekend with a win over the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos.
“I think this team really likes the excitement and the pressure of the big games,” Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross said. “The Monday night game was big and we were talking all week about how much we were looking forward to it, and this is even more of the same. I hope guys know it’s big and there’s a lot on the line and it’s a playoff atmosphere, because if we’re going to do what we want to do, we need to do well in these types of games.”