CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers can clinch their first playoff appearance since 2008 by winning either of their final two games.
But the Panthers also know the benefit of winning both.
If Carolina (10-4) can beat New Orleans at home Sunday and Atlanta on the road the following week, the Panthers would win the NFC South and secure the No. 2 seed, which means a first-round bye and at least one playoff game at home.
Carolina is 6-1 at home.
For now, the team's focus is on the Saints and snapping the five-year playoff drought.
"We're looking at it as, 'Why not us,'" Newton says. "... If we do what we have to do, if we win this game, we have our confirmation of being in the playoffs."
Even if the Panthers lose Sunday, they can still qualify for the playoffs as a wild card by beating Atlanta in Week 17.
However, that would likely mean having to win three road games to reach the Super Bowl as the fifth or sixth seed.
That's been done before, but certainly not the path of least resistance, particularly with how difficult it is to play at Seattle and New Orleans. The Seahawks are 6-0 at home; the Saints 7-0.
"I really do believe they understand (the magnitude)," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of his players.
"One of the things I told them, we've gone through it every week. In our situation and circumstances, with San Francisco the way they are, with Arizona the way they are, and with the situation with the Saints, every game has been important."
Said Newton: "Guys are going to be hungry to play this game."
Rivera said it gives him heartburn to think the Panthers have won 10 games and still could wind up sitting at home for the playoffs if they stumble and lose their final two games.
That's because the NFC is so top heavy.
Seattle (12-2) has already clinched a playoff spot, while fellow NFC West foes San Francisco (10-4) and Arizona (9-5) could still move ahead of Carolina in the playoff hunt.