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Injuries Abound As Panthers Fight For A Lot In Final Game Of Season

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CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 01: Lavonte David #54 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pursues Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers during play at Bank of America Stadium on December 1, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

(Credit, Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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By Danny Cox

When Steve Smith came up lame against the New Orleans Saints this past weekend, the entire Carolina Panthers fan base let out a huge gasp. A little while later, he came back into the game and everyone breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short-lived as Smith went back out in the second half.

Right now, the Carolina Panthers are heading into the Georgia Dome to take on the Atlanta Falcons in the regular season finale. If the game were to be played today, there would be a couple of big names on the shelf.

Once Sunday rolls around, those players could still be sitting on the sidelines and it happens to be when the team needs them both.

Running back Jonathan Stewart seemed to be coming back nicely from his early-season ankle problems, but that isn’t the concern anymore. The problem now is a knee sprain he suffered against the New Orleans Saints three weeks ago and he will likely be listed as doubtful against Atlanta.

Chances are that he won’t be playing at all until the playoffs.

Carolina has seemed to do well without Stewart as DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert easily picked up the slack. The bigger problem is going to be that of the wide receiving corps.

Steve Smith sprained the PCL in his left knee against the Saints, and it would keep just about any normal player sidelined. Smith is a bit different though and he isn’t one to sit out unless absolutely necessary.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has already said that he is not counting on Smith to play against the Falcons, even though the wide receiver would force himself to play, and play well, if need be.

At this time, Ted Ginn Jr. will likely start in Smith’s spot opposite Brandon LaFell. Marvin McNutt will be moved up for depth due to Smith’s possible absence.

An NFC South title and a first-round bye in the playoffs can be clinched with a victory over the Falcons, who have had one of their worst seasons in decades. Still, the Falcons are only a few points and a play or two away from being in playoff contention instead of looking at a high draft pick.

The Falcons should not be underestimated as they are difficult for even the healthiest teams to defeat. Right now, the Panthers are not the healthiest team and that could spell trouble for their playoff seeding. They’ve got to play up to their strengths just like they have all season, and hope that Atlanta isn’t playing with even more gumption in hopes of playing the role of spoiler.

For more Carolina Panthers news and updates, visit Carolina Panthers Central.

Danny Cox knows a little something about the NFL, whether it means letting you know what penalty will come from the flag just thrown on the field or quickly spouting off who the Chicago Bears drafted in the first round of the 1987 draft (Jim Harbaugh). He plans on bringing you the best news, previews, recaps, and anything else that may come along with the exciting world of the National Football League. Danny is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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