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First Panthers-Saints showdown headlines first NFL Sunday in December

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Week 14 of the NFL season kicks off the last leg of the regular season. The action on Dec. 8 features a whopping 14 games, now that there are no more byes. However, the big NFL game of the day is the last one in New Orleans, as first place in the NFC South and the conference’s No. 2 seed is on the line.

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The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints were both lost at this time last season. The Saints were crumbling without Sean Payton, while the Panthers took a significant step down in Cam Newton’s second season. Yet the Saints returned to form when Payton returned, while Newton has gone to another level in his last eight games -- and now these two 9-3 teams are fighting for the division lead in New Orleans.

This won’t be the last time they face off this month, as their rematch will come on Dec. 22 in Charlotte. Even if the Panthers become the latest team to lose at the Superdome, they can easily even things back up at home two weeks later. Yet when the Kansas City Chiefs lost their first game to the Denver Broncos on the road on Nov. 17, they couldn’t avenge it at home on Dec. 1 and are now locked into the AFC No. 5 seed, while the Broncos should have the No. 1.

Thanks to the Seattle Seahawks destroying the Saints on Dec. 2, New Orleans can only get as high as No. 2. But if they don’t put that loss behind them and get back on track at home, like usual, the Saints could be stuck at No. 5 at best while the Panthers continue their startling rise up.

At the least, this showdown will have the biggest impact on the playoff picture for Week 14. The accompanying slideshow lists the best, worst and most important games throughout a busy day in the NFL.

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