First Look: Cardinals-Panthers


Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

No. 4 seed Arizona Cardinals (10-7) at No. 2 seed Carolina Panthers (12-4), Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET

Even before it gets dark in Charlotte on Saturday night, there won't be a lot of light. For the first time in franchise history, the Panthers will wear black jerseys for a home playoff game.

That's something the Panthers always have wanted to do. But a bit of history here: Their previous home playoff games were against the Cowboys, who prefer to wear white. On those occasions, the Panthers wore white jerseys to prevent the Cowboys from doing the same.

It worked, as Carolina won both of its home playoff games. Bank of America sometimes gets labeled as a wine-and-cheese crowd. But it's developed into a real strong football crowd. The Panthers haven't lost a home game this year.

Playing at home will be a help, but the Panthers can't take that for granted. Here's a look at five keys to the game for Carolina.

1. Get healthy. Defensive tackles Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis and right tackle Jeff Otah have been banged up in recent weeks. All indications are they should be ready to play and the Panthers need them at full strength after the bye week. Keomoeatu may not be a name player, but his role as a space eater in the middle of the defensive line is crucial. The Panthers don't have anyone else who can fill that role.

2. A strong dose of Double Trouble. Carolina's offensive backfield tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have chosen that nickname and it fits nicely. Williams and Stewart complement each other well and the Panthers have done a nice job of mixing up their playing time.

3. Get the defense back. Carolina's defense wasn't particularly sharp in the final weeks and the secondary looked like a weakness at times. That's not what you want when you've got pass-happy Arizona coming to town. Maybe a healthy pass rush up front will help, but the secondary is going to have to play a lot better and smarter against Arizona's receivers.

4. Act like they've been here before. While the postseason is a relatively-new concept for the Cardinals, the Panthers are veterans at this. Most of the roster went to the NFC Championship Game in the 2005 season and some were on the 2003 Super Bowl team. The Panthers have a big edge in big game experience and they need to use it.

5. Don't forget about Steve Smith. It's easy to get all caught up in the hype about the running game. But the Panthers have another offensive weapon, who can be explosive. That's wide receiver Steve Smith, who usually shows up big in big games. The Panthers have to take some shots with Smith.