The Carolina Panthers are making a return visit to the NFL playoffs this weekend.

Carolina will square off against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. The Panthers will have to put a pair of negative thoughts out of their mind heading into the wildcard matchup.

First of all, Carolina is coming off a 22-10 loss to Atlanta, a setback that cost them the NFC South title. Secondly, New Orleans shellacked the Panthers 34-13 in Charlotte in September, then beat them again 31-21 on Dec. 3 at the Superdome.

The Panthers had plenty of momentum entering the regular season finale having won seven of their previous eight games. It is gone now. Instead of hosting a playoff game, Carolina now has to win three in a row on the road to reach the Super Bowl.

Cam Newton’s productivity will again likely be the key for the Panthers. He is coming off one of his worst games of his career last week. Newton missed his first eight passes against Atlanta enroute to a career low QB rating outing that included three interceptions.

One thing is for certain: Newton and the offense will need to put points on the board against New Orleans. Lots of points because the Carolina defense has yet to slow down the Saints’ offense. Not only did New Orleans sweep the Panthers this season, but they did so by a 65-34 count. The Saints also forced the Panthers into committing six turnovers.

Newton has long been the Carolina’s best and most talented offensive player, as well as the only NFL Most Valuable Player the team has ever had. It is widely thought that the Panthers rely too heavily on Newton. The numbers bear this out. Of Carolina’s 5,179 offensive yards in 2017, Newton accounted for an overwhelming 4,056 of those yards (78.3%). He led the Panthers in rushing in seven of their 16 games, winding up with 754 yards on the ground, easily the most among NFL quarterbacks.

Putting up those numbers against weaker opposition is one thing. It is another thing doing it in January against quality competition.

History tells us that Newton has been both hit and miss in playoff action.

The numbers are actually quite mediocre. In six playoff games, Newton’s record is 3-3 entering the Saints game. His quarterback rating is 83.9, slightly lower than his career regular-season rating of 85.3. He has thrown eight touchdown passes in the playoffs but also has thrown seven interceptions.

Mediocrity is not an option Sunday. Newton will have to be great for Carolina to upset New Orleans.