Carolina Panthers

Gross is Kerney's kryptonite

CHARLOTTE -- Seattle defensive end Patrick Kerney leads the league in sacks, which is a bad thing for Carolina.

But the Panthers have Jordan Gross starting at right tackle today, which makes it significantly less bad.

Kerney, the Seahawks' prize free agent pickup of the offseason, has 13.5 sacks, pushing his career total to 71.5. Of that sum, 8.5 have come in 13 games against the Panthers, dating back to his days with Atlanta.

None of them, however, have come with Gross playing right tackle.

From 2000 to 2002, Kerney had 5.5 in six games, but that was lined up across from Chris Terry and Melvin Tuten. With Gross' arrival in 2003, Kerney was shut out. He put 3.0 on the board in 2004, but that was when Gross was dispatched to the left side and Matt Willig was playing right tackle.

Since then, Kerney hasn't marked against the Panthers, with Gross playing in front of him in both 2005 games and the first one last year, before Kerney went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle, missing the second matchup.

Gross joked that having Kerney opposite him today helps, since there's little else for the Panthers to play for.

"It helps when you've got guys coming in who lead the league in sacks," he said when asked about the challenge of focusing. "If you can't get up for that, you can't get up for anything. ...

"I've played against him a lot. He's a great guy to go against, a good challenge, he plays clean, he just works. I'm glad we're at home, so there shouldn't be much crowd noise. It'll be fun."

• WHAT'S ON TAP: Thanks to the league's rotating schedule, the Panthers already knew 14 of their 16 opponents for next year.

But with it looking most likely they'll stay in third place in the NFC South, they're narrowing down the possibilities for the other two.

If they stay where they are in the standings, they'll play the third-place teams from the NFC West at home and the NFC East on the road. As it stands now, that means a visit from either St. Louis or San Francisco, and a trip to Washington.

Along with the two games against each of their division foes (Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Atlanta), the Panthers will have home games against Chicago, Detroit, Denver and Kansas City, with road trips to Green Bay, Minnesota, Oakland and San Diego.

That'll help them with strength of schedule, since only five games would be against teams which currently own a winning record (two against the Bucs, as well as the Packers, Vikings and Chargers).

• YEAH, THERE'S THAT: Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was doing his best to talk up the Panthers during a conference call last week, but as with all conversations, it came back to the undefeated New England Patriots.

After outlining how their injuries have taken a toll, and expressing admiration for the Panthers' players and coaches, Hasselbeck said: "In this league you can lose on any Sunday and all the games are close and tough, unless you're playing the Patriots."

• LOOKING AHEAD: We've wasted ink in this spot in past weeks talking about playoff possibilities, so here goes the converse.

If the season ended today, the Panthers would pick 10th in the draft, trailing Cincinnati but ahead of the other 5-8 teams based on a lower strength of schedule number.