CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Panthers are trying their best to emulate last season's Kansas City Chiefs.
To do that, they must beat this season's Chiefs on Sunday.
The 2015 Chiefs did what 90 other NFL teams since 1990 had failed to do – rebound from a 1-5 start to make the playoffs. They did it by running the table, winning their final 10 regular-season games.
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Carolina started 1-5 this season. But it has won two games since the bye week and there is a renewed sense of confidence and momentum. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he shared the Chiefs' story with his team a couple of weeks ago, telling them there is hope.
''It's been done before,'' Rivera said.
Last year's league MVP Cam Newton believes the Panthers have what it takes to bounce back.
''The season's not over yet,'' Newton said. '' … We're right where we want to be. We're in a position to compete and challenge teams and they know that.''
It won't be easy.
The Chiefs are riding a four-game winning streak and have won 16 of their last 18 regular season games.
Rivera said he briefly thought about calling Reid, whom he worked under as an assistant coach in Philadelphia, to get some advice, but thought better of it knowing the Chiefs were coming up on the schedule.
If there's anybody that can turn things around for the NFC champions it would seem to be Newton. Although the Panthers started last season 14-0, they are typically slow starters -and strong finishers – under the 2011 No. 1 pick. Newton has won 72 percent (31-12) of the games he's started from November through January, as opposed to 42 percent (17-24-1) in September and October.
ALEX RETURNS: Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith is back under center after missing last week's game against Jacksonville with a head injury. Smith was never diagnosed with a concussion, but two hard hits he sustained in Indianapolis left him woozy on the field, and Reid decided early last week that sitting out a game would be in Smith's best interest.
Nick Foles started in his place.
''I felt really good regardless,'' Smith said. ''Thankfully Nick and the rest of the guys got the W, that's what is most important. Obviously I was doing everything I could to try and help in whatever way it is. I'm pumped and happy to get back and get going this week.''
FORD TOUGH: Chiefs pass rusher Dee Ford was a teammate with Newton at Auburn. Newton remembers it well.
''He's always had that professional sense that you had to respect, and I saw that at Auburn, and it's just great to see hard work pay off,'' Newton said.
The Chiefs only have 16 sacks this season and nine of those belong to Ford. The 2014 first-round pick was largely considered a bust before coming on late last year, and he's been crucial as the Chiefs await Justin Houston's return from knee surgery. And 5 1-2 of those sacks have come in the last two weeks.
''I think he's very comfortable with the defense now,'' Reid said. ''It's a fairly complicated defense, but he's got a pretty good grasp of it. I think he's probably gotten stronger since we've gotten him. I think he's spent a ton of time in that weight room. He's got himself in shape to where he can do this back-to-back thing.''
HOUSTON, WE HAVE NO PROBLEM: Chiefs linebacker Houston makes his first return to the lineup this week after recovering from a knee injury last season. The four-time Pro Bowl pass rusher was removed from the physically unable to perform list earlier this week, but has not played in a game since having surgery to repair his left ACL in February.
SACK ATTACK: Carolina is getting after the QB. The Panthers have a dozen sacks in their last two games, matching their total from the first six games. A big part of that is the Panthers playing with the lead and playing less mobile quarterbacks in Carson Palmer and Case Keenum. This week they'll face Smith, who has deceiving speed and athleticism.
CENTER OF ATTENTION: Keep an eye on the Panthers' center situation. Two-time All-Pro Ryan Kalil and his backup Gino Gradkowski have been held out of practice this week, which means guard Chris Scott could be pressed into duty. Scott has very limited experience playing center, which could make it interesting if the Panthers limit the number of snaps Newton takes from the shotgun.
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas City contributed to this report.
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