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In My Opinion

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Smooth or bumpy? There are no guarantees

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. Sunday, FOX

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for more than 20 years and has been at the paper for more than 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

The two most uttered phrases in Charlotte this week:

(1) Happy holidays.

(2) The New Orleans Saints can’t win on the road.

About the first: I hope your holidays are happy.

About the second: It’s true, New Orleans isn’t as good on the road as it is at home. In related news, neither is anybody else.

The Saints are 3-4 as guests. That’s one entire game worse than Carolina, which is 4-3.

There’s another number to consider.

New Orleans has not lost consecutive regular-season games under head coach Sean Payton since 2009. And those losses come with an asterisk. After winning 13 straight to clinch the NFC South, the Saints lost their last three regular-season games. They went on to beat Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV.

The Saints have lost road games this season to New England, the New York Jets, Seattle and St. Louis.

New Orleans responded to the New England loss by beating Buffalo by 18, responded to the New York loss by beating Dallas by 32 and responded to the Seattle loss by beating Carolina by 18.

The Buffalo, Dallas and Carolina games, however, were played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Sunday’s game against the Panthers is at Bank of America Stadium. It will be the first time all season in which New Orleans followed a road loss (St. Louis) with a road game.

Would you like yet even more fascinating, intriguing and compelling statistics?

I hope not.

Carolina-New Orleans doesn’t require numbers. If the Panthers win they get to be, if not the kings of the world, in first place in the NFC South by themselves for at least a week. If the Saints win, the division is theirs.

Is Carolina-New Orleans bigger than Carolina-New England 34 days ago?

The New England game was fantastic in every way. The Panthers proved in prime time what they were capable of and they proved it in their city, in front of their beautifully crazed fans, against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

But the Patriots aren’t from around here. They’re royalty, but they’re distant royalty. The Panthers have played the Patriots six times in 19 seasons (and won three.)

The Saints come to Charlotte so often that instead of renting they should buy. Carolina has played New Orleans 37 times (and leads the series 19-18.)

The Saints are family. But they’re that branch of the family. They roll up to the house with the zydeco cranked up, wearing beads, eating bread pudding, sticking their voodoo dolls and practicing their secret Cajun tricks. You know they’re going to make fun of our golf shirts and khakis, tell us how bland we are and complain because our bars close at 2 a.m.

So we turn off the lights and don’t move until they leave.

Panther Nation will not hide Sunday. Even Carolina head coach Ron Rivera has asked fans to make noise.

All week long, in Charlotte’s bars and restaurants, on talk radio and probably in libraries and book stores, we’ve heard that we aren’t real fans unless we sign a blood oath promising to show up at Bank of America Stadium early and scream for four quarters.

If you own a ticket, of course, you can do with it what you will – show up late and leave early, stay home or sell it to a Saints’ fan.

But if you’re a fan of the Panthers or of events, why wouldn’t you embrace this?

A big game on Dec. 22 for Carolina most seasons is: “If we win, we’ll be six and nine!”

This is not most seasons. This is Riverboat Ron, Steve Smith and Thomas Davis, in downtown Charlotte, in the biggest game in, if not world history, the NFL this week.

And as long-time fans will tell you, there’s no way to know when it will come our way again.

I’m better at drinking than I am at toasting. But at 12:30 p.m. I am going to raise a glass, which unfortunately will be full of ice cubes and water, and propose a toast. Join me if you want.

What will I toast?

We’ll toast the season, opportunities and possibilties, and the chance to be part of something unexpected, exciting and much too rare.

tomsorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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