We all can scout the Saints like Rivera

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- I'll finally get to study the Carolina Panthers' next opponent at the same time as coach Ron Rivera. And I'll be on the couch with a bowl of popcorn just like Rivera, as well.

There may be a cold beverage involved, too, although Rivera didn't get that specific on his Monday night plans.

I just won't be sitting next to Rivera.

The third-year Carolina coach also will have one thing I won't -- a notepad.

Christmas tree trimming is scheduled for Monday night at the Newton household, so there'll be garland and lights strategy instead of charting offensive and defensive schemes.

But trust me, there will be full attention on the New Orleans Saints as they take on the Seattle Seahawks.

A win by the Saints (9-2) means they'll be a full game ahead of Carolina (9-3) when the two teams meet on Sunday night in New Orleans. A loss means the teams will be tied and the winner at the Superdome will hold the outright lead in the NFC South with three games remaining.

This is as big of a three-game stretch as the Panthers have faced since 2008, with another game against New Orleans on Dec. 22 in Charlotte. The outcome of those games ultimately will determine who wins the division and who gets a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

Because of tiebreakers, the Panthers probably need to win both games to win the division.

And preparation all starts on the couch.

"I'll have my notepad with me," Rivera said on Monday. "I'll have plenty of popcorn, because I'm going to watch this from start to finish and get as much as I can out of it."

Rivera actually admitted he gets useful information out of the analysts. He particularly likes listening to Jon Gruden, a former coach at Tampa Bay and Oakland, on "Monday Night Football."

He typically watches the television copy of upcoming opponents even when it's not MNF just to see what the analysts, many that are former coaches and players, might offer.

"Because the expert analysts will come up with something," Rivera said.

But once this game is over, Rivera likely will go over his notes or go back and review the game -- or aspects of it -- again.

I'll probably just go to sleep.