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Panthers hoping to get healthy with bye week

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STEVE REED
AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) -- Panthers coach Ron Rivera is hoping an extra week off enables his team to get back to full strength and make a run at the Super Bowl.

Along with capturing the NFC South division championship Sunday, the Panthers wrapped up a first-round bye in the playoffs. That's huge for a team in dire need of getting star receiver Steve Smith and two other role players back on the field.

Carolina's passing game struggled in a 21-20 win over Atlanta with its wide receivers combining for just 22 yards on four catches without Smith.

Rivera says the game "illustrates what a veteran number one receiver does for you."

The Panthers hope the extra time gives running back Jonathan Stewart and defensive tackle Colin Cole a chance to return from injuries.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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