How testy will these teams be on Sunday?
Rivalries are not uncommon in sports and the NFL is no different. The legendary rivalries have featured the Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins, the Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears/Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns (though this one has been one-sided as of late).
The teams of the expansion era have developed their own rivalries over the past few years.
The Carolina Panthers will open their home schedule this Sunday against division rival New Orleans Saints. While this matchup is being billed as a must-win for both teams after unexpected opening losses last week, this game could very well open a bigger rift and fuel the animosity between these two teams.
There are many reasons to watch this game because it features two teams who are both very physical and vocal during each matchup. One can liken this game to a Pittsburgh-Baltimore showdown in the NFC.
Over the next few slides, this rivalry will be examined and show why there is no love lost between the two franchises.
The Panthers and Saints have seen each other a lot. Since 1995, they have played in 34 games and have split them at 17-17. Regardless of how the record is broken down, their records against each other are very, very close.
In Charlotte, the Panthers are 8-9 in games against the Saints.
Since the arrival of Drew Brees back in 2006, the Panthers and Saints have played to a stalemate with a shared record of 6-6.
Despite the talent of the New Orleans roster and how superior the offense has been in recent years, they haven't been able to break open the gap and seize the overall record in their favor. However, they have a four-game winning streak dating back to 2010.
It is an almost certainty the Panthers will be looking to not only get the win but snap a streak of futility against their division foe.
Cam Newton and Drew Brees have faced off only twice but they could quite possibly put together a rivalry similar to that between Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Peyton Manning during his days with the Indianapolis Colts.
Brady, much like Brees, owned this rivalry in the beginning. However, Manning was able to keep coming back and finally achieved postseason success when he led the Colts to a Super Bowl win a few years back.
Both quarterbacks are very capable of putting up big numbers through the air and while Brees has the talents of a strong receiving corps highlighted by tight end Jimmy Graham, Newton has the ability to gain yards and score points with his legs.
It should not be any surprise to anyone if these guys are involved in many shootouts while quarterbacking their respective teams during their matchups. Given what we saw from the Saints last week and a sense of redemption from the Panthers heading into this week's game, a shootout may be in order sooner than we think.
Yes, a case could be made for both sides of the ball in terms of emotional game play and getting caught up in the moment. Yes, trash talk and big (sometimes questionable) hits are common in any game.
However, when it comes down to these two teams all bets are off...especially when the Panthers have their offensive unit squaring off against the Saints defense.
Steve Smith likes to incite unsportsmanlike play because he is a competitor. Many defenders in the league know this and try to use it to draw a penalty against Carolina thus killing any drive or momentum turning play. That being said, Smith has matured as a receiver, teammate and captain of the team.
Roman Harper learned that last season after delivering a cheap shot on Smith after he burned the Saints secondary en route to a touchdown. While both teams got into a scuffle immediately following the play, Smith kept his cool and did not retaliate....too much.
As Panthers fans, we look at the Saints defense with increased scrutiny and feel they deliver too many late or illegal hits. While this statement is true for any game, the games involving the Saints seem to be magnified 10 times.
In all fairness, both sides of the ball on either team are very emotional and very chippy when it comes to on-field play. Expect a lot of this in Sunday's game especially after the findings of Bounty Gate came to light.
Speaking of which....
What fires up a team more than anything else in the world of sports? Placing a bounty of your team's quarterback, that's what. Cam Newton was one of the quarterbacks named in the Saints alleged bounty hunting scandal (alleged due to recent rulings and in this great country, innocent until proven guilty).
No doubt the Panthers will be playing with some extra fire and motivation in this one. It should be interesting to see how hard Brees is hit but it is safe to say that Ron Rivera will preach self control and to not commit the unnecessary penalty.
Still, the Saints need to be concerned about the intensity the Panthers' veteran defenders will bring and the offensive linemen are going to have their hands full trying to protect their quarterback from what many fans hope will be an inspired pass rush.
Of course, if the revelation of Newton being a marked man isn't enough of a motivational factor to seek retribution against New Orleans, perhaps seeking payback for running up the score will be just as effective an equalizer.
Ron Rivera may be one of the most respectable coaches in the league and after a few winning seasons under his belt, could be the most beloved and celebrated coach in Carolina's short history. There is no doubt Rivera has a different approach to the game than his counterpart across the field, Sean Payton.
Rivera prefers to play for the lead, hold it and secure the win. Payton has a confidence about him in which his offense has been infamous as of late for putting up huge numbers. Nowhere was this more evident than the final week of the 2011 regular season.
The Saints had a huge lead and instead of resting their bench players, Payton chose to let his guys reach for not only big stats but team, individual and league records.
Naturally, this did not set well with the team and Coach Rivera had this to say earlier in the week per Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer:
It's a philosophy. It's an attitude. And that's what his is. So he coaches that way and they play that way. My attitude and my philosophy is win the football game, and then be smart about your next week. That's just the way I look at it, a difference in philosophy.
While a blowout win over the Saints would be great and they would be getting their just desserts, that is not Rivera's style and will play for the win and if comfortable enough will rest his starters the rest of the way.
Payton's style of coaching may rub Carolina fans the wrong way and it may upset the players in Carolina's locker room, but it is safe to say the Saints coach has done his part to help heat up this fierce rivalry.
Unfortunately, the rematch of Payton and Rivera will not happen this year as Payton will be serving his suspension. However, their meetings will resume next season and could have mean the difference in winning the division or missing the playoffs.