CHARLOTTE – As the Panthers brace for their playoff game, the conversation surrounding them often involves the 15-1 regular season.
Some players, like linebacker Thomas Davis and Charles Johnson, have come out and said anything less than the Super Bowl would be a disappointment.
Head coach Ron Rivera understands the sentiment, but doesn't agree.
"I think that is extreme," Rivera said. "15-1 got us to where we are. 15-1 allowed us to have homefield throughout. We've got a ticket. The ticket says you're in. What you do from that point, that's up to you. That's the most important thing.
"You earn the right to be here, now you have to stay here. To me, you can't disparage what you did during the regular season. You accomplished something. But you have to go forward, and to me, it's what you do now."
The Panthers' focus is entirely on the now – an NFC Divisional Playoff against Seattle – which requires undivided attention.
Rivera was asked about the immense pressure on his team entering Sunday's game. He went on to explain the importance of preparation to alleviate pressure.
"When I speak to grade-school kids I ask, 'How many of you guys feel pressure when you don't study well and do the assignments like you're supposed to before the test?' They all raise their hand. You need to study and do your homework – that's the truth of the matter," Rivera said.
"If you feel like you've done everything you can possibly do before you show up and play that game, there is no pressure. You might have butterflies, but you shouldn't feel pressure. You should feel confident and ready to roll. That's what we're trying to get across to our guys."
The message has been received.
"He said it right," tight end Ed Dickson said. "Pressure is what you feel when you don't know what you're doing. There are jitters and that never stops until the day you walk away from the game. And then you'll miss that feeling."
The Panthers embrace the emotional aspects of the game. All season they've exhibited a youthful enthusiasm that became contagious. It's who they are, and it's who they must continue to be.
"Don't forget what got you there. It's easy for somebody to say, 'Well, you had fun during the season but now it's the playoffs so tighten up.' That's not us, you know?" guard Trai Turner said. "That's not the way we play, that's not the way we operate in this building. We just have to go out there and keep being ourselves and let our personality show."
Carolina's personality hasn't been hiding this week. Locker room dance parties attest to that. Rivera feels confident about the way his team has handled itself since the regular season concluded and he feels lessons have been learned from previous playoff encounters.
"I think they're in a good place," Rivera said. "They've kept their personality, they've kept their energy level high."
And at this point, they're just ready for another opportunity to play.
"We feel great. We feel like we had a solid week of practice and a solid week of preparation," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "We've been knocking on the door the past couple of years. We're ready to kick it in."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against the Seahawks.