Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, like just about every coach anywhere, prefers not to get too far ahead of the next game on the schedule.
But as his staff started doing prep work on their opponents during the spring and summer, the Panthers’ fourth-year coach remembers looking at his team’s five-game stretch during October and early November and saying, “Wow.”
“Going back to May, June, July, when we first looked at it and tried to study it … you sit there and go, ‘Wow, this is a heck of a stretch,’” Rivera said Friday.
The Panthers (3-3-1) are in the middle of the five-game run against teams that made the playoffs in 2013. They tied Cincinnati, were blown out by Green Bay 38-17, and face Seattle (3-3) on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
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The Seahawks have dropped two games in a row for the first time in two years, but Rivera said Seattle – like Green Bay last week – will be a good measuring stick.
“This is another one because of who they are, the defending Super Bowl champs,” Rivera said. “And they’ve got a lot of quality football players. So we’ll find out just how tough we are, how mentally tough we are, how physical we can be.”
Sunday’s game will be the first of two in five days for the Panthers, who host divisional rival New Orleans on Thursday. The Panthers then head to Philadelphia for a Monday night game Nov. 10.
Rivera likened the stretch to a three-game stretch in November last season at San Francisco, at home against New England, followed by a trip to Miami. The Panthers won all three games during an eight-game winning streak.
“If you do things right and things fall into place for you, it can be something you most certainly build off of,” Rivera said.
Injury update: There will be no surprises when the Panthers’ inactives are announced 90 minutes before Sunday’s game.
Seven players are listed as out against Seattle, satisfying the NFL rules that seven on the 53-man roster must be inactive.
Running back DeAngelo Williams will miss his fourth straight game with a high ankle sprain, though Rivera hopes Williams can play Thursday night against New Orleans.
Linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee), cornerback Bené Benwikere (ankle), guards Amini Silatolu (calf) and Trai Turner (ankle/knee), running back Fozzy Whittaker (quad) and returner/receiver Philly Brown (concussion) are all out.
Linebacker Jason Williams (hip) is questionable, as is running back Chris Ogbonnaya, who left practice early after experiencing soreness in his groin area.
Brenton Bersin will be the primary kick and punt returner, though several players including Jerricho Cotchery, Darrin Reaves and Joe Webb have gotten work on kick return duties.
Webb will be active for the first time since Week 1 when Cam Newton was inactive. Webb will be the No. 5 receiver with Brown sitting out with a concussion.
Young at heart: Center Ryan Kalil and defensive end Wes Horton both played for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at Southern Cal, where Carroll won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and two national championships during a nine-year tenure.
Both said Carroll’s trademark energy and enthusiasm were not an act.
“We would have team meetings where he would come in, take his shirt off, get on top of a piano and start going crazy,” Horton said. “That’s just him. He’s like a young guy in an older guy’s body.”
Kalil says he often sees Carroll, 63, running during the offseason in Manhattan Beach, Calif., where Kalil’s wife’s family has a home.
Horton said Carroll related well to his players – on and off the field.
“His knowledge of the game is so smart that he can go to any position player on the field, watch him that one particular snap and go to him and go, ‘This is what you need to do better,’ ” Horton said. “He’s not just offensive-minded or defensive-minded.”