The Panthers won’t be at full strength as they try to secure a bye week, but there’s increasing hope that a bye week would help them get that way for the playoffs.
According to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer, the Panthers have declared wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Jonathan Stewart and defensive tackle Colin Cole out for Sunday’s regular season finale against the Falcons.
The Panthers can clinch the NFC’s No. 2 seed with a win or a Saints loss, but would fall to the Wild Card round if they lose and the Saints win. And given their own bizarre history in Atlanta (where they haven’t won since 2007, the day quarterback Jake Delhomme’s elbow disintegrated), that’s far from a given.
But if the Panthers can take care of business without Smith, there’s a hope among those close to him that he’d be able to come back for a Divisional Round game after spraining his PCL in last week’s win over the Saints.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera took the optimism a step further, saying he “would never bet against Steve” playing next week if they had to play in the Wild Card round.
While Smith’s not the same player he was in year’s past, he’s still able to move the chains, and should be the guy Cam Newton trusts the most.