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Panthers have NFC South all sewed up? Not so fast

I have heard from many jubilant Panthers fans this week celebrating the fact that the team will finally win the NFC South and host a home playoff game in January after a heart-pounding win over New Orleans a week ago.

That celebratory tone is understandable. But it’s also premature.

The Panthers have to beat Atlanta in Atlanta first. The Falcons are 4-11 – the mirror image of Carolina’s 11-4 record – but they have many of the same players that got the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game only one year ago.

As Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross said: “The Atlanta game now is bigger than the New Orleans game was because it’s got everything on the line. And playing the Falcons at Atlanta is never an easy game for us.”

Gross understated that fact. The Panthers have lost five straight to Atlanta on the road, last winning in 2007.

Now it’s 2013. I wish the Panthers would drop the wildcat formation entirely from their offense – it never works anymore. And Williams is in his eighth season. But one thing hasn’t changed – No. 34 will be a key Sunday.

Agreed. Tom is one of my best friends, but his all-black Johnny Cash wardrobe could use an update. Here’s hoping the pants he buys are lavender, too.

My pick: Carolina 24, Atlanta 13.