Panthers preview: Jan. 3 vs. New Orleans Saints

Game: New Orleans Saints (11-4) at Carolina Panthers (5-10), 4:25 p.m.

TV: Fox Network

RADIO: WBT-AM 1110/WBT-FM 99.3 in Charlotte is flagship station (Mick Mixon play-by-play, Kurt Coleman and Jim Szoke color analysts, Kristen Balboni sideline reporter)

THE SERIES: New Orleans leads 27-25, including seven of the last eight meetings and three straight in Charlotte. Today’s 53rd meeting between the teams will make the Saints the most frequently played opponent in franchise history. The Atlanta Falcons are second with 52 meetings.

RANKINGS AMONG NFL (Through week 16): Carolina offense – 20th overall, 21st rushing, 17th passing. Carolina defense – 18th overall, 16th rushing, 17th passing. New Orleans offense – 9th overall, 7th rushing, 19th passing. New Orleans defense – 3rd overall, 4th rushing, 5th passing.

BY THE NUMBERS: 16-9 – Carolina Panthers’ record in its first 25 regular season finales. That includes a 5-2 record at home and 11-7 on the road.

NOTABLE: Do the Panthers always seem to end their regular season against New Orleans? Not exactly but it sure seems that way and Sunday’s game will mark the 11th time in the franchise’s 26-year history it has happened. Carolina is 7-3 in the first 10 season-enders, most notably taking a 44-38 win to close out the 2012 season as DeAngelo Williams set a franchise record with 210 yards rushing….
Other regular season finales have come against Atlanta (5 times), Tampa Bay (3) and Pittsburgh, Washington, Indianapolis, New England, the Raiders, Rams and Giants (1 each)….
After going 3-5 in the first half of the schedule, the Panthers are 2-5 in the second half entering Sunday’s game. Carolina has finished with a better second half 13 times in its first 25 years but will finish with either a worse second half for the ninth times or a second half equal to the first half for the fifth time….
Curtis Samuel will enter Sunday’s game 70 yards shy of 1,000 yards from scrimmage this season. Already, D.J. Moore (1,114 yards), Robby Anderson (1,071) and Mike Davis (1,015) have surpassed the century mark this season, which gives Carolina a chance to become the fifth team in the Super Bowl era to have four players with 1,000 or more yards from scrimmage in a season; Washington in 1989, Houston (now Tennessee) in 1990, Atlanta in 1995 and Indianapolis in 2004 are the four previous teams to do so….
Panthers coach Matt Rhule said top running backs Christian McCaffrey and Mike Davis are likely to be out of Sunday’s game. It would leave quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as the leading Panthers’ rusher entering the game – Bridgewater has 272 yards and five touchdowns this season – and Rodney Smith (116 yards) and Trenton Cannon (33 yards) top running back rushers….
Last week’s Carolina Panthers 20-13 win at Washington followed a few hours later by the Charlotte Hornets 106-104 win over the Brooklyn Nets marked only the sixth day in Charlotte history in which both teams won on the same day. Previously, the teams had split 22 times and been swept 20 times.