GAME PLAN: Head coach John Fox's formula is pretty simple: run the ball, control the clock and play good defense. It doesn't always work, but it has got the Panthers into the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
Stephen Davis struggled in his last game against the Dallas Cowboys held to 59 yards on 26 carries, but the Panthers know they must establish the run to set up the pass. Look for Davis to get his 20-plus carries and have a little more luck running at home. Still, the Cowboys defense is built to stop a runner like Davis, so it will be tough for him to get 100 yards. Don't be surprised to see the Panthers take a few shots downfield.
Defensively, the Panthers have to find a way to shut down the Cowboys' short passing game. In the last meeting, Quincy Carter completed 10 passes to his tight ends and nine to his running backs.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. Carolina linebackers and safeties. Witten was a big part of Dallas' game plan in November, catching six passes, including one on the final drive that allowed the Cowboys to run out the clock and seal a 24-20 win. The Panthers need to shut down that option and force Carter to throw to his wide receivers.
INJURY IMPACT: The Carolina Panthers expect to have everyone available for Saturday night's playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, although sack leader Mike Rucker might be limited in some of the things he can do on the field.
After missing two games with a second-degree MCL sprain, Rucker played the first half Sunday against the New York Giants and said his knee held up fine. But Rucker admitted after the game that he isn't where he was prior to injuring the knee earlier this month in a Sunday night game against the Atlanta Falcons.
"I'm a different guy right now," Rucker said. "I'm going to have to change up some of my moves. There are certain things I can't do right now."
But Rucker, who has waited six years for a chance to play in the postseason, said all he wants is a chance to play.
The Panthers talked about holding Rucker out of Sunday's game, but he pressed them to play. "I didn't want to miss three straight weeks," Rucker said. "I wanted to come out and move around and do some cutting and banging on it. And we got that done. It probably would have been better if we waited, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to get out there and not lose all of my timing." Rucker said he wouldn't need surgery on the injured left knee after the season, just rest.