Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera and Kansas City Chiefs counterpart Andy Reid know each other well, having worked together for five seasons when Reid was the Eagles’ head coach.
But Rivera’s familiarity with Reid doesn’t necessarily trickle down to his players, most of whom were not around in 2012 when the Panthers last faced Kansas City.
The Chiefs (6-2) have somewhat quietly become one of the NFL’s best teams. They have won four in a row and are 16-2 over their past 18 regular-season games.
Kansas City also is getting healthy for the stretch run. On Wednesday the Chiefs activated All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston from the physically unable to perform list following his ACL surgery in February.
Houston was limited at practice Wednesday and it’s unclear whether he’ll play at Carolina on Sunday.
A closer look at the Panthers’ next opponent:
Three on offense who matter
Alex Smith: The 11th-year quarterback missed last week’s victory at Jacksonville with post-concussion symptoms. Smith threw a team-record 312 passes last season without an interception and has been intercepted only twice this year.
Spencer Ware: With Jamaal Charles (knee) on injured reserve, Ware is the Chiefs’ featured back. Ware, who was cleared Wednesday after sitting a game while in the concussion protocol, ranks among the top three backs in the league in scrimmage yards (117.7 per game) and receiving yards (313 for the season).
Travis Kelce: The tight end is the Chiefs’ leading receiver, with 39 catches for 435 yards and three touchdowns. Kelce was ejected from the 19-14 victory over the Jaguars for throwing a towel at an official.
Three on defense who matter
Dee Ford: The former Auburn defensive end is thriving as an outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ 3-4 scheme. The 6-2, 252-pounder is third in the NFL with nine sacks, trailing Buffalo’s Lorenzo Alexander (10) and Denver’s Von Miller (9.5).
Tamba Hali: The outside linebacker is the Chiefs’ answer to Thomas Davis – a 33-year-old who is still producing despite a chronic knee issue that limits him to one practice a week. Hali has 1.5 sacks in a reduced role.
Marcus Peters: The cornerback hasn’t missed a beat following his Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2015. Peters is tied for the league lead (with Casey Hawyard) with five interceptions and has 13 in 24 career games.
▪ Creating turnovers has been an issue for the Panthers. Not so for Kansas City, which is No. 1 with a plus-13 turnover margin and has a league-best six takeaways in the red zone.
▪ Andy Reid has coached in the NFL for 18 seasons, the past four with Kansas City. With his 178th victory last week, Reid moved ahead of Jeff Fisher as the second-winningest active coach behind Bill Belichick (253).
▪ The Chiefs gave up 205 yards on the ground to Jacksonville last week and rank among the worst run defenses in the league. Getting Houston back should help.
They said it
▪ “He’s a guy that’s been in the system and had some success with Andy. He’s a very athletic and mobile quarterback. He’s got a good release. He runs their offense very well.” – Panthers coach Ron Rivera on Smith.
“Very speedy guy that was always yearning for some type of edge. For him to have as many sacks as he has, it’s a result of his determination, as well as his discipline to his craft.” – Cam Newton on Ford, his teammate for one season at Auburn.
“The last couple of weeks they’ve been able to really dictate terms to the offense, so to speak. They’ve been able to set the tone and make life tough for opposing offense.” – Smith on the Panthers’ defense.