To get a home playoff game and to come out of the NFC as the Super Bowl representative, the Carolina Panthers must go through the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints have become the NFL's biggest mess in a hurry, and the door is now prepped to be kicked down by a team on the rise in the NFC South division.
If you've been living in a cave this offseason, it's time you learn about the Saints' troubles. This short outline is a good start.
I. New Orleans Saints Demise
B. Mickey Loomis' wire-tapping probe
C. Sean Payton suspended for entire 2012 season
D. Drew Brees is "frustrated" by contract
Conclusion: The Saints are in serious trouble, and the Panthers are going to reap the benefits.
While every game still must be played and accounted for, the Panthers can be seen as a more likely division favorite now. Atlanta has had trouble getting out of the starting blocks in the past few NFL playoffs, and their window could be seen as closing.
What's more optimistic than a window that's just opened? Or a door that's ready to be kicked down?
The Carolina Panthers have an excellent shot at winning their division and hosting a playoff game in 2012 based on the ugly offseason that the Saints have faced. It's going to take the Saints' franchise some time to recover off the field no matter how much talent they have on it.
Set your sights on the Giants, Packers, Cowboys, Lions and 49ers of the world, Panthers. The Saints aren't blocking your path any longer.