CHARLOTTE – The Panthers have no shot this weekend.
That's pretty much the consensus outside Bank of America Stadium. And that's understandable considering the Saints swept both meetings this season by a combined score of 65-34.
But to completely rule out a team that won 11 games seems a bit silly.
"It's crazy how people sit there and don't want to give people chances or anything like that. Well, that's fine. It's how you look at it and how you go out there and you play," head coach Ron Rivera said Friday. "A lot of people didn't have us picked (to be) here anyway. We were picked 6-10, 7-9, 8-8, last in the NFC South. You can look at it that everything we do from here on out is gravy, then. It just depends on the approach you want to take.
"So quite honestly, I'm not concerned with it. I don't think it has anything to do with how we play – what people say. If we believed that in 2015, we would have never gotten anywhere."
Count me among the many who thought those Panthers would, at best, challenge for the NFC South in 2015 after losing wideout Kelvin Benjamin in training camp. Two years later, it's still hard to believe a team with Ted Ginn Jr. as its best wide receiver nearly pulled off an undefeated season.
"I think the year they 15-1, they were (picked) to be last in the division. I think this team plays when their back is against the wall," said wideout Russell Shepard, who spent four seasons in Tampa Bay before coming to Carolina this spring. "Being around this group of guys, seeing the stories, seeing the mental makeup of this team, I think this team is at its best when doubt is overwhelming against them.
"It's no different than when you corner a dog – it's going to come out biting."
Again, no one's saying the Panthers shouldn't be an underdog. They were twice outclassed by the Saints, and injuries at wide receiver could make you long for that 2015 group. But after limping to the finish line at 3-3, it's not like New Orleans is an unbeatable machine.
"I was just in there eating lunch and I saw a 30 percent chance of us winning. I was like, 'Man, it's the playoffs. It's anyone's game,'" cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.
"Don't get me wrong; they've got a Hall of Fame quarterback. We know that. But at the same time, a game's going to be played at 4:40 our time, 3:40 their time Sunday."
And you can bet Rivera will try to rile up his guys by playing the underdog card all the way up until kickoff.
"I love being in this position," he said. "I think when people discount you, that's fine. Hopefully, we all understand that as a team, as an organization, as a city.
"Nobody knows what's going to happen. That's why you play."