Ron Rivera won't rest players while games have meaning

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has no plan to rest players over the final two weeks of the regular season as long as the games have value and meaning.

Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game against the Atlanta Falcons has both, because the Panthers (14-0) would ensure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win.

Carolina also can secure home field throughout with a loss should Arizona (12-2) lose or tie Green Bay in the 4:25 p.m. ET window. But it won't know the outcome of that game before facing the Falcons (7-7) at the Georgia Dome.

Should the Panthers lose and Arizona win, Carolina would need to beat Tampa Bay at home the following week to lock up home field.

Again, the Panthers won't know the outcome of Arizona's finale against Seattle until after they play because the Cardinals play the late game.

Rivera remained adamant that he has no idea what he will do against Tampa Bay in terms of resting players if home field already is secure.

"Two things I've come to learn,'' Rivera said. "First of all, this next game has value. After that, these are players. These guys want to play.''

"If the game has value, obviously, there's no issue. [When] we get to that game, we'll cross that bridge.''

Even if home field is secure by the finale, Rivera might not rest players. He recalled that when he was an assistant coach with the 2005 Chicago Bears, the team opted to rest starters in the finale against Minnesota.

The Bears lost 34-10, and then lost 29-21 to the Panthers in a divisional playoff game after a bye week.

"At the time it seemed like a great idea,'' Rivera said of resting players. "We all agreed and thought it would be good. But after the game -- guys talking about, 'Gah, a little rusty. I wish we had played a little more because we had the bye week, too' -- just listening to that it really just reminded me.

"And I've always kind of kept that in the back of my mind.''

Rivera has been consistent over the past few weeks in saying the goal is to win the Super Bowl, not go 16-0. But if the Panthers win their final two games, they will become the first team since the 2007 New England Patriots and fifth in NFL history to finish the regular season with a perfect record.

The others were the 1934 Chicago Bears, 1942 Bears and 1972 Miami Dolphins.