Panthers' Smith predicts playoff rematch

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- I'm not sure which stood out more on Sunday: quarterback Cam Newton wearing white after Labor Day or wide receiver Steve Smith predicting the Carolina Panthers will face the Seattle Seahawks again in the playoffs after the offense produced only seven points.

The fashion faux pas can be passed off as Newton making a bad statement or simply not willing to conform to tradition.

Smith's comments? You could call them a bad statement as well, considering the Panthers lost yet another opener, 12-7, and fell to 1-8 in games decided by seven or fewer points going back to last season.

You also could call it Smith not willing to conform to tradition -- as much as slow starts and not making the playoffs have become a tradition to the Panthers over the past four seasons.

"I stand on this: I think we're going to see them again deep in January," Smith said as he looked for a positive in the loss. "If we continue to play like we're playing, eliminate some of the penalties, eliminate some of the mistakes ... for us to have played that team that is considered by all accounts the best team in the NFL -- according to Skip Bayless, the best AFC team around. ... If that's the best team, we came down to the [final minutes] and it was a well-fought game."

Smith's comment was in reference to ESPN's Bayless mistakenly referring to the NFC West Seahawks as an AFC team on Twitter last month.

But Smith's point was this: If the Panthers could play the best team in the NFL to within five points and have a chance to take the lead until DeAngelo Williams fumbled at the Seattle 8-yard line late in the fourth quarter, then they may be better than the naysayers predict.

"Our season is not over," Smith said. "If that means the season is over I'm not sure what kind of football y'all are used to around here. That's not a quitting team."

Asked a few minutes later if Carolina was a playoff team, Smith barked, "I didn't stutter. There was no slur in my speech."

What Smith didn't mention was Carolina played these same Seahawks to within 16-12 a year ago during a 1-6 start that turned into a 7-9 season. What he didn't address was the mindset that comes from constantly losing close games.

At some point soon the Panthers have to be on the plus side of these outcomes, otherwise coach Ron Rivera will be looking for a job and the new general manager will be looking for new players.

You can't keep having missed opportunities -- the catch phrase of the day -- and be a good team. As Rivera said, the loss brought back memories of the start of last season.

Last season, the Panthers weren't a playoff team.

So what makes Smith think they are now?

Maybe it's that Carolina shut down the Seattle running game, holding Marshawn Lynch to 43 yards on 17 carries. Maybe it's that the defense kept quarterback Russell Wilson at bay until a 43-yard touchdown pass on blown coverage with 10:13 left.

But predictions of a playoff rematch didn't come from the defense. It came from a member of an offense in which the quarterback had a career-low 125 yards passing. It came from a unit that saw No. 2 wide receiver Brandon LaFell go without a catch.

From a unit that scored seven points.

This isn't an offense that can go deep into January.

So for Smith to predict that stood out like a white sports jacket after Labor Day.

But maybe his teammates are listening. They seemed a lot more optimistic than after last year's opening loss.

"Everybody, let's not panic,'' Newton said. "We're going to be all right."