Wrap-up: Panthers 44, Saints 38

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers44-38 victory over the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday:

What it means: This was a fitting end to the Saints’ season. A defense that set an NFL record for yards allowed in a season was absolutely horrible. That defense is a huge part of the reason the Saints finished at 7-9. The Panthers also finished with a 7-9 record, but they finished on a high note.

Enough to save a job? The Panthers finished the season by winning their final four games and looking like the team many expected them to be back in the preseason. Will that be enough for the Panthers to keep coach Ron Rivera around for a third season? That now is up to owner Jerry Richardson, who hasn’t had a team with a winning season since 2008. Richardson’s patience is wearing thin, but I think patience might be a good thing in this case. Rivera got the Panthers, to finish strong and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of franchise quarterback Cam Newton to have to adjust to a new coaching staff. And let’s remember, Newton is the franchise in Carolina.

End of the misery? The bounty scandal, the Drew Brees contract negotiations and a losing season made for a very difficult nine months for the Saints and their fans. It’s all over now, and coach Sean Payton is expected to be reinstated from his suspension the day after the Super Bowl. Things should get better, but it’s not going to be easy. Payton’s offensive intellect should be enough to touch up the offense a little bit, but the defense has to improve dramatically for the Saints to have any shot at becoming contenders again.

What’s next: For the Panthers, it’s time to watch and wait to see whether Richardson keeps Rivera. A decision should come very quickly, but Richardson also has to hire a general manager. Once those two situations are resolved, the Panthers likely will have to go through the painful process of unloading some veterans because their salary-cap situation is a mess. The Panthers have $136 million committed toward a 2013 salary cap that is expected to be slightly more than $120 million. The Saints are in a similar situation when it comes to the cap. They have about $138 million committed toward the cap. Veterans Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and Roman Harper are high on a long list of guys with high cap figures that could be salary-cap casualties. If those three go, Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis are going to have to get very creative in how they go about restocking their defense.