CHARLOTTE – Wide receiver Steve Smith said the percentages he threw out this week in reference to his injured knee were random, but he did offer up a familiar figure Friday. "There is an 89 percent chance that I play Sunday," Smith said.
Smith, who has worn No. 89 throughout his illustrious career with the Panthers, is listed as questionable for Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoff against the San Francisco 49ers. Smith said he ran about five routes Friday before calling it a day in rainy conditions.
"Until we shut him down because of the rain, he was moving around pretty good," head coach Ron Rivera said. "My gut says he's going to play, but it's about how he feels."
Smith missed the regular season finale after suffering a posterior cruciate ligament sprain in a Week 16 victory over the New Orleans Saints. His importance to the offense is undeniable, but so is the need for others to perform at the highest level regardless of Smith's status.
"There are a whole bunch of other positions that have to step up and make plays," Rivera said. "You'd like to see Brandon (LaFell) make a few more plays. The last couple of weeks he's struggled, and he knows it.
"Domenik Hixon has stepped up, and I really like what we've gotten from Ted Ginn. Greg Olsen has been a very strong, steady player for us, and maybe you've got to get a little bit more out of your backs."
One of those backs, Jonathan Stewart, is also questionable. Stewart, who missed the last three games with an injury to his medial collateral ligament, practiced fully this week, though Rivera said his workload was limited.
Colin Cole, a key cog in the defensive tackle rotation who missed the regular season finale with a calf injury, also is questionable after being limited in practice all week. Tight end Ben Hartsock (knee) and safety Quintin Mikell (thumb) are probable after fully participating in practice throughout the week.
Panthers players – be them healthy or healing – are counting down the minutes to Sunday's kickoff.
"It's exciting," Rivera said. "After you have a week off, you can't wait to get back and get going again.
"We know what to expect. We expect this to be a tough, physical football game. We're excited about it."