As most Panthers fans expected, the team have officially ruled out wide receiver Steve Smith from playing in the regular season finale against the division rival Atlanta Falcons this Sunday in the Georgia Dome.
Jonathan Jones broke the news with the following tweet:
Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith and Colin Cole OUT for Sunday's game at ATL. Cam Newton is probable. Robert Lester questionable (ankle)— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) December 27, 2013
Smith injured his knee when making a cut on a route in the first quarter of the Panthers 17-13 victory over the Saints last week and missed the remainder of the game save for one snap when he attempted to return to action. MRI test conducted the following Monday revealed that Smith had suffered a sprained PCL in his left knee and was expected to miss the season finale in Atlanta before the team announced their decision to give him a week's rest before the playoffs begin.
If everything goes according to plan, Smith will get another week to rest his knee, because a victory in Atlanta on Sunday gives the Panthers the NFC South division title, at least the #2 overall seed in the NFC and a bye week for players to rest up before the Divisional Round of the playoffs begin.
Running back Jonathan Stewart and defensive tackle Colin Cole are also officially out for Sunday's game. Stewart is still sidelined from an MCL injury he suffered in the Panthers' first meeting with the Saints on December 8, and Cole has been hampered with a calf injury that forced him to leave the Panthers' game with the Saints last Sunday. The Panthers will most likely use a three man rotation at defensive tackle in Cole's absence, but it is possible that defensive end Greg Hardy could slide over to play tackle in obvious passing situations to give the Panthers a stronger pass rush against Matt Ryan.
Quarterback Cam Newton was noticeably dinged up in last Sunday's game with New Orleans after tweaking his ankle, but is expected to be on the field this Sunday in Atlanta.