The Panthers' 3-9 record isn't keeping them from talking some trash leading up to their rematch with the division rival Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy said Wednesday the struggling Panthers are a "better team" than Atlanta.
Yes, better than the Falcons, who have clinched the NFC South division title and have the NFC's best record at 11-1. The Panthers, meanwhile, are coming off a loss to Kansas City, which had won only one game this season before Sunday.
When asked if he meant the Panthers were the better team on Sept. 30 when they lost 30-28 at Atlanta or better overall, Hardy replied, "Both."
Hardy said this Sunday's rematch is about "payback" and "punishment."
"We owe them something and it is coming," Hardy said. "I'm trying to mess with their whole playoff experience. I want them to go home sick in the stomach and mad about life, a couple of depression issues, all types of things. It's going to be a long day from my point of view. I'm coming."
Hardy, now a full-time starter in his third season with the Panthers, said he's not a big fan of the team's Interstate-85 rivals, calling the Falcons "a little cocky."
"I feel like they're not respectful," Hardy said.
Hardy is among several Carolina defensive players who felt disrespected by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan after television cameras caught him cursing as he shouted "get off our field" toward the Panthers sidelines in the final seconds of Atlanta's Week 4 win at the Georgia Dome.
Big Ben closer to return for Steelers
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin challenged Ben Roethlisberger to prove his sprained right shoulder is ready to go before handing the keys to the offense back to his franchise quarterback.
A few dozen passes Wednesday appears to have provided a pretty compelling argument.
Admittedly a little rusty while going through his first serious workout since injuring his shoulder and dislocating a rib during a 16-13 overtime win over Kansas City on Nov. 12, Roethlisberger reported no major issues after letting it loose following a three-week layoff and seems on track to start on Sunday against San Diego.
"I'm getting there," Roethlisberger said.
Tomlin declined to name Roethlisberger the starter against the reeling Chargers (4-8) but sounded very much like a coach running out of reasons to keep his team's most valuable player on the sideline.
"I thought it was a positive day for Ben," Tomlin said. "He threw the ball around both vertically and horizontally. I thought the ball had good velocity, particularly in a few instances. So, it was positive."
Around the league
Packers • Charles Woodson was back at practice on a limited basis Wednesday, and coach Mike McCarthy says the defensive back's return from a broken collarbone is "getting close." Woodson has missed the last five games after breaking his collarbone against St. Louis. Also, the team re-signed running back Ryan Grant, who is fifth on Green Bay's all-time rushing list, running for 4,016 yards and 25 touchdowns from 2007-11.
Vikings • Minnesota placed ailing wide receiver Percy Harvin on injured reserve. The move was announced Wednesday afternoon, after Harvin missed another practice because of severely sprained left ankle that has kept him out of the last three games.
Seahawks • Cornerback Brandon Browner has dropped the appeal of his suspension for using performance-enhancing substances and will miss the final four games of the regular season.
Jets • Backup quarterback Tim Tebow says he did "a lot more" in practice Wednesday than he has the previous two weeks while healing from two broken ribs. Tebow says that despite being limited he was able to throw passes at full force for the first time in a few weeks.
Raiders • Coach Dennis Allen returned to the team after the death of his father. Allen flew to the Dallas area on Sunday night to be with his father, Grady, and his family. Grady Allen died Tuesday at age 66 of cardiac arrest.
Ravens • Linebacker Terrell Suggs doesn't intend to let a torn right biceps keep him out of Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins, but said it will "definitely be a game-time decision" whether he plays.
Cardinals • John Skelton will be back at starting quarterback when the Cardinals play the Seahawks on Sunday in Seattle. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, whose team is mired in an eight-game losing streak, announced after Wednesday's practice that he would replace rookie Ryan Lindley after two starts.
Cowboys • Running back DeMarco Murray was a precautionary scratch from the first practice since his return from a six-game absence with a sprained right foot. Murray said he would return to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session.
Week 14 Schedule
Denver at Oakland, 6:20 p.m., NFL Network
Chicago at Minnesota, 11 a.m.
Baltimore at Washington, 11 a.m.
Kansas City at Cleveland, 11 a.m.
San Diego at Pittsburgh, 11 a.m.
Tennessee at Indianapolis, 11 a.m.
N.Y. Jets at Jacksonville, 11 a.m.
Atlanta at Carolina, 11 a.m.
Philadelphia at Tampa Bay, 11 a.m.
St. Louis at Buffalo, 11 a.m.
Dallas at Cincinnati, 11 a.m.
Miami at San Francisco, 2:05 p.m., Ch. 2
Arizona at Seattle, 2:25 p.m.
New Orleans at N.Y. Giants, 2:25 p.m.
Detroit at Green Bay, 6:20 p.m., Ch. 5
Houston at New England, 6:30 p.m., ESPN