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Steve Smith: 'It's good to be a Carolina Panther'

Is any NFL team hotter than the Carolina Panthers since coach Ron Rivera's football epiphany?

After opening the season 1-3, the Panthers have won four straight while averaging 32.5 points to just 12 for opponents.

Elder statesman Steve Smith, a 13-year veteran in Carolina, found himself looking at the sky this week, pondering his good fortune as the Panthers moved into pole position for the NFC's final playoff spot.

"I'm literally laying there," Smith told TheMMQB.com's Peter King, "and I'm looking up, and this thought came to me: It's good to be a Carolina Panther."

Who can blame one of the most under-appreciated players of his generation for counting himself fortunate after wasting away on aimless teams quarterbacked by Jimmy Clausen, Chris Weinke, David Carr and Brian St. Pierre over the past seven years.

"Nothing to a football player is more degrading than going into a game hoping things don't blow up into a disaster in the first quarter," Smith explained. "You start thinking, What did I do to deserve this?"

Smith isn't the only one excited about Riverboat Ron's surging Panthers. A portion of the Around The League crew has adopted Carolina as its favorite team to watch this season.

This week's NFC throwdown with the San Francisco 49ers is shaping up as a statement game for a Panthers team that has feasted on bad teams while ranking third in total defense, third in interceptions, fourth in turnovers forced and first in touchdown passes allowed.

"I think this team is ready to play a game like this," Smith said. "The intensity of it will be good for some of our young players. It'll wake some of them up. I think it'll be a chippy game, which is in my element. Good old-fashioned football."

We're counting on it. I half-jokingly suggested on Friday's Around The League Podcast that we ignore the rest of Sunday's late-afternoon games to solely concentrate on the biggest Panthers game since their divisional round home loss to Kurt Warner and the Arizona Cardinals in January of 2009.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" previews every Week 10 game, including the heavyweight battle between the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers.

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