By now you know where you're watching the game and with whom, what you're going to eat and drink and what time you'll get there. I like the idea of getting downtown -- never uptown -- early. I want to be there by 5 p.m. at the latest. I'll probably be there by 4. I don't like traffic and the traffic patterns around the stadium are unpredictable. I'd rather show up, walk around and let the thing unfold.
The press box is insulated. There's lots of food, although not as much food as gossip. It's a good group. Nobody in the local media postures. None of us watch ourselves when we walk. Maybe some of the out-of-towners will provide that.
But I'd rather be with fans. So I'll ditch my laptop early, walk around until I run into somebody I know and, like a saint, refuse their offer of free beer -- unless they're willing to hold it until after midnight. I'll also visit the statue of Sam Mills. I spent a lot of time there this week.
The Panthers painted the end zones black. One assistant coach told me that was a goal of the team, black end zones. Why?
The end zones were painted blue for the West Virginia-North Carolina bowl game at Bank of America Stadium. The only opportunity to paint them black was if they hosted a playoff game.
I get it.
I thought the team was loose and confident this week. There was the sense that this is their time. I think they win tonight. Carolina's offense is too diverse. If DeAngelo and Stewart don't get you, Steve Smith will. I also think a surprise player will emerge offensively.
I think Arizona will score early. I think Carolina will score early and late. Getting the injuried defensive tackles back is huge, as are the tackles.
I've written all season that I thought this team was special. I saw it in training camp, which is why I picked them to go 11-5, and have never lost confidence. They're a neat coming together of veterans and youth. The new players merged seamlessly with the old.
I don't think they blow Arizona out. I think they win by a touchdown. And then we wait until tomorrow to see if we head north or sit back and wait for Philadelphia to come south.