Cam NewtonThe New Orleans Saints managed to stave off the Carolina Panthers when the two NFC South foes battled in Week 14, but this Sunday at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, there’s divisional supremacy on the line. Can Cam Newton and Carolina’s stellar defensive unit show why they’re the NFL moneyline favorite heading into the late season contest?

While New Orleans’ victory the last time the two clubs met is not to be overlooked, the Panthers are slight -3 favorites when it comes to the Week 16 NFL odds for multiple reasons. Not only has home field served the franchise well this season, it can only exacerbate the issues that the Saints’ have with physical defenses.

The Saints have lost to the St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets already this season, largely thanks to their front seven’s ability to wreak physical havoc against Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense. Can Carolina harness the trend when they take the field Sunday?

Considering that both clubs are locked in the standings at 10-4 (and on the Super Bowl futures at 14-1), the NFL betting community will pay special attention to how this game unfolds. The winner will take the division title leaving the loser to hope for the best in the wild card race.

At this point it appears that the playoff aspirations of both clubs are safe — sorry Arizona Cardinals — but don’t let that take away from the importance of a late season clash against a heated opponent. In terms of momentum and the confidence necessary to actually contend for the Super Bowl, this critical Week 16 contest may as well be the first game of the postseason.

Not only does the matchup carry actual playoff implications, it also serves as a tool to gauge the legitimacy of each contender. While neither franchise was hand-picked to win the championship from the onset of the season, they’ve taken the league by storm over the course of the 2013 campaign.

For Sean Payton and the Saints, the solid season has been a return to normalcy after the unpredictable years that followed Bountygate. The fact that New Orleans is in contention for a spot in the postseason should come as no surprise; football fans just have to re-acclimatize themselves to the idea in the first place.

For Newtown and the Panthers, the breakout year has put the franchise on the map. No longer an underachieving and forgettable squad in a small football market, Carolina has stepped up as one of the toughest clubs in the NFL. That’s made them a threat to win any time they set foot on the field, but it’s also made them one of the more appealing bet options available to football fans anxious to see fresh faces disrupt the reigning status quo.

Might the Week 16 clash between the two squads in contention for the NFC South go down as one of the must-see events of the 2013 NFL season?