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Steve Smith says he'll play for Panthers vs. 49ers

So much of what the Panthers do on offense hinges on the presence of Steve Smith.

Carolina's top wide receiver hasn't played since spraining his PCL in Week 16, but told The Charlotte Observer on Monday that he plans to play in Sunday's NFC divisional playoff showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.

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Smith initially told the newspaper there was a 60 percent chance he'd suit up, but the pass-catcher said that was more about "a matter of confidence in the knee." On target to resume practicing Wednesday, Smith said he's already done some running and cutting.

Without Smith in the lineup, the Panthers have been forced to lean on the inconsistent Brandon LaFell in a passing attack that pumped out just 149 yards in a Week 17 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Smith's chemistry with quarterback Cam Newton can't be replaced. The Panthers desperately need him against a 49ers squad boasting the most road wins this season in the NFL and a defense allowing a league-low 14.9 points per game since Week 4.

Here's the rest of Monday's injury news:

1. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that a MRI on the knee of Packers cornerback Sam Shields revealed a bone bruise, according to a source who spoke with the player. The injury, sustained in Sunday's wild-card loss to the 49ers, won't require surgery. That's excellent news for Shields, set to become a free agent in March after one of his best seasons to date.

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2. Rapoport also noted that Packers outside linebacker Mike Neal is OK after being carted off Sunday with a knee injury.

3. Broncos coach John Fox told reporters that pass rusher Shaun Phillips was sent home with a fever Monday, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold. We'd be stunned if that had any impact on his availability for Sunday's divisional-round meeting with the San Diego Chargers.

4. The Denver Post reported that Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe and safety Rahim Moore were absent from Monday's session. Wolfe has practiced just twice since suffering seizure-like symptoms in late November. Moore (leg) has yet to practice since being placed on short-term injured reserve two months ago.

5. Chargers running back Ryan Mathews barely played in the second half of San Diego's wild-card upset of the Bengals because of a nagging ankle injury. Looking toward Sunday's game against the Broncos, Mathews told reporters: "My mindset is I'm playing."

6. Also for the Chargers, right tackle D.J. Fluker was seen in a walking boot Monday after playing through the ankle injury he's battled for much of the season, according to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego. We fully expect him to suit up against Denver.

7. Giants offensive tackle Will Beatty underwent surgery Monday on his fractured tibia, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, who tweeted that the lineman "should be ready" for the start of New York's 2014 campaign.

We'll continue to update this post throughout the day, so check back, ladies and gents.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" recapped all the Wild Card Weekend action.

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