Notes: Panthers prep for playoffs

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers earned a well-deserved first-round bye, and they'll use it to help get a head start on three potential divisional round opponents.

If Philadelphia defeats New Orleans, the Eagles will travel to Charlotte. If the Saints win that game, the Panthers will host the winner of the Green Bay Packers-San Francisco 49ers matchup.

"We are going to prep for any of those three possibilities," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We'll have all of our cutups and breakdowns ready to go."

Rivera also detailed the Panthers' bye week schedule.

"This week, we are going to work Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday," Rivera said. "Wednesday and Saturday will be more mental preparation, and they'll do some extra work with our training staff and strength and conditioning. Thursday and Friday will be geared more toward the actual execution of plays."

MUCH-NEEDED REST: The biggest benefit of the bye week is the additional rest it provides Carolina's injured players – namely wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart, who are both recovering from knee injuries.

"That's exactly it – it gives us an opportunity to get them back on the field ready to go," Rivera said.

Smith's absence was felt in the regular season finale against the Falcons. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell was held without a catch, and the receiving corps had just four catches total.

"It did illustrate what a veteran No. 1 wide receiver does for you. It'll be good to have Steve back out there," Rivera said. "I believe he's going to be back out there. It's a challenge for him, and he expects to be there."

CORNERS SAVOR MOMENT: They are at opposite ends of their careers, but undrafted rookie cornerback Melvin White and 11-year cornerback Drayton Florence cherished Sunday's win just the same.

White was awarded the game ball from Rivera after recording a game-changing pick-six in the second quarter.

"It's great to know that I'm the one that gave the team the spark," White said. "It's extremely special.

"Going from battling to make the team, then making the team, then becoming a starter – and now to making the game-changing play... It's such a blessing."

Florence credited White for turning the game in Carolina's favor

"We needed to make something happen," Florence said. "He made the play."

And thanks in large part to White's interception, Florence – who hasn't been to the playoffs since 2007 with the San Diego Chargers – will get a chance to make a playoff run with the second seeded Panthers.

"No words can really describe how good it feels," Florence said. "From being cut after the fourth preseason game, sitting at home the first two weeks – it's just a great feeling. I'm going to enjoy the ride the whole way."

SUPER SPECIALISTS: After punting six times for a 48.7 gross average and  39.7 net average against the Falcons, punter Brad Nortman set single-season team records with 47.8-yard gross average and 41.6-yard net average.

Also, kicker Graham Gano's 79.7 touchback percentage is the highest in a season since Brad Daluiso of the Denver Broncos with an 81.3 percentage in 1992.

"(Brad and Graham) have been tremendously important," Rivera said.

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