Panthers not celebrating playoff berth just yet

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 24, 2013 at 1:47 pm •  Published: December 24, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers aren't celebrating clinching their first playoff berth since in five years.

There's too much at stake this week.

Carolina can clinch the NFC South championship, wrap up a first-round bye and secure at least one home playoff game by beating the Atlanta Falcons on the road Sunday.

"The work is not done," safety Mike Mitchell said. "We are in the playoffs, but it's not time to relax. We can make it a lot easier for ourselves and earn some rest and let other teams beat themselves up."

The Panthers (11-4) still have an outside shot to earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. That would require a Carolina win, a San Francisco victory over Arizona and St. Louis beating Seattle.

The Panthers would love to be home for the playoffs where they've won seven straight games.

"There still is business that needs to be taken care of and there is a lot at stake," coach Ron Rivera said. "We have to start getting ready and getting prepared. It is going to kind of be a different week with Christmas coming up.

"But we will make the best of it and we will continue to prepare. We have to get ready for these guys."

A bye week would give star wide receiver Steve Smith an extra week to recover from a sprained left knee. Smith injured the knee in the first quarter of Carolina's 17-13 win over the Saints and is listed as doubtful for the Falcons. He did not practice Tuesday.

With Smith in the training room for most of the game, Carolina was 0 for 9 on third downs and managed just 222 yards on offense.

Newton had a rough day.

He was held to 116 yards passing and had one interception before going 3 of 5 on the final drive for 65 yards — including the game-winning 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left in the game — to salvage the day.

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