CHARLOTTE – With each passing win, the games get bigger and the noise grows louder.
With Carolina (7-0) hosting the Green Bay Packers (6-1) on Sunday, there's been talk of playoff implications, home-field advantage in January and revenge after last season's 38-17 defeat.
For head coach Ron Rivera, it becomes harder to keep his team locked in on the "one game at a time," "they all count the same" mentality.
"I'll stick to my mantra that this is the most important game we'll play because we're about to play it," Rivera said. "But I think the players understand what's at stake.
"It could have implications in January, but we'll focus on what it means now."
Right now, the NFC South-leading Panthers, still in search of that elusive complete game, are trying to improve to 8-0 and maintain their distance in the division race.
But it's impossible to ignore the storylines surrounding Week 9. Team captain Greg Olsen and other leaders acknowledge them, but that's about as far as it goes.
"All those things – those playoff scenarios – they're really irrelevant to us," Olsen said. "We aren't trying to predict how the next six weeks are going to unveil for every team in the NFC. We're trying to win our game."
Winning requires the Panthers to outplay a talented Packers team with Super Bowl caliber credentials led by the league's reigning Most Valuable Player, quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"They've been one of the traditional powers in the NFC for a reason," Olsen said.
Said Rivera: "They're a good football team with a potential Hall of Fame quarterback and some playmakers with an aggressive style and an attacking defense. We had trouble last year."
Last year's blowout loss may not be fueling Carolina this week, but at the very least it serves as a reminder of what can happen if you aren't at your best against Green Bay.
"Those guys had our number," defensive tackle Kawann Short said. "We feel we are a better team this year. We feel we can give those guys a go."