The Panthers knew last week that Steve Smith wasn’t going to be able to finish the regular season.
But they’re still hoping he’ll be back for the playoffs, which gives them some incentive today.
Smith’s inactive because of his PCL sprain suffered in last week’s clinching win over the Saints. But the hope is that he’ll be able to return for the postseason.
If the Panthers win today (or if the Saints lose), the Panthers will secure the NFC South title and a bye week (and perhaps the top seed, depending on other results).
A loss to the Falcons would allow the Saints to win the division with a win over the Bucs, which would push the Panthers to the fifth seed. That would make for a quick turnaround for Smith, as those around him have said he needs the bye week to make sure he’s ready to get back on the field.