Carolina Panthers

Panthers playing for home-field advantage tonight

CHARLOTTE -- So much has been said about tonight's meeting between the Carolina Panthers and the New York Giants, it's easy to feel a bit of overkill.

But then you think about what's at stake tonight -- simply put, everything.

Tonight's winner clinches the top seed in the NFC playoffs, and home-field advantage until the Super Bowl.

For the Panthers, that's huge, since they're 8-0 at home this season, and a different team in their own building. For the Giants, it might be bigger, since they're injury depleted and sore, and could use a meaningless Week 17 and the subsequent bye week to get well for the games that count.

But the Panthers also entered this week not guaranteed of a playoff berth at all, as they could miss the playoffs altogether if they lose both games, and Dallas, Atlanta and Tampa Bay each win their last two.

"It's a huge game, I think you're crazy to say its not," tackle Jordan Gross said. "There's so much on the line and the situation we're in is so unique, because we can go from the top to the bottom depending on what we do and everyone else does these next two weeks. So you want to be in games like this in December, and in New York, really it's one of the biggest stages you could be on."

All week, coach John Fox has laughed about how this has become the "third biggest game ever," following their Monday Night Football win over Tampa Bay, and the validation game against Denver last week. At the same time, he understands the pressure grows with each passing day.

"We feel pressure every week," Fox said. "We've been here before and we'll be here again. Nobody can put more pressure on us than we do. This is what we do, and actually I enjoy the pressure."

Asked why, he grinned and said: "It's exciting. It beats the alternative."

The Giants are feeling it as well. Two weeks ago, they were 11-1 and running away with things. Then their offense fell flat, and they hardly look like the same team that everyone figured would roll to the Super Bowl.

"You put yourself in a position like this at the end of the year where you have two teams that are 11-3 and they are both playing for, what is no doubt an advantage," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Both teams realize the importance of the game in terms of home-field advantage, never having to leave home throughout the playoffs, and secondly, it's an opportunity to utilize the bye week to your advantage.

"There isn't any doubt that this a very important game recognized by everyone. I don't think anybody can miss the essence of this game."

Though the Giants get to play this one in their place, that advantage might be negligible.

The Panthers came into Giants Stadium and destroyed them (23-0) in the 2005 playoffs, and New York has actually lost six straight December home games. That streak runs back through the 2006 season, with the Giants' last home win this late in the year a win over Kansas City on Dec. 17, 2005, three weeks before the Panthers blew them out.

But the Panthers know they're catching a good team at a dangerous time. That has them focusing on this one this week, and not allowing that they've even considered what happens down the road.

"Yeah, it can mean a lot of things," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "But if we take the approach we've had the last few weeks and do what we do and try to play our best football on Sunday and we'll see what happens after that. Really that is what it is."

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