CHARLOTTE – Carolina will host a desperate New York Jets team that needs some help if they're to reach the playoffs.
The Panthers, on the other hand, are in position to fully focus on helping themselves reach the playoffs.
"It's not a foregone conclusion by any means, but are we in position? Most certainly," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Now we've got to take care of our business, and if we do then good things will happen.
"It starts Sunday against the Jets."
There are countless permutations related to the playoff picture, but with a 9-4 record, the Panthers know that if they win their final three games, they'll return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 regardless of what else happens around the league.
That's certainly on the players' minds, but not in a way that will cloud their focus.
"There's not a game that goes by, a practice that goes by, a meeting that goes by that we all don't think about how we have to do something for us to make the playoffs, quarterback Cam Newton said. "The reason why we play this game is to give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs.
"But each and every game, you have to be ready to put your best foot forward. We don't have the luxury of saying, 'Well, we're going to beat the Jets,' and just look forward to New Orleans (next Sunday). This Jets team is a very good team. We have all our energy on this game."
Rivera believes the Panthers might have even a little extra energy given their last game, a 31-13 loss at New Orleans that snapped an eight-game winning streak.
"A lot of guys took it personal. They were really disappointed," Rivera said. "Guys kept saying, 'Boy, I wish it was Sunday.' You want to get that taste out of your mouth, get back on the field and play your best."
The entire roster minus running back Jonathan Stewart (knee) has a chance to be on the field Sunday, with the other seven players that missed some practice time this week listed as probable after fully participating in practice Friday. The group includes guard Chris Scott, who has missed the last five games with a knee injury, and linebacker Jordan Senn, who missed last week's game with a hamstring injury.
Rivera said the improved health will lead to some difficult decisions when it comes time to declare seven players inactive for the Jets game, but it's a good problem to have.