SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) The banged-up Carolina Panthers will be without star linebacker Luke Kuechly and two other key defenders Sunday while their playoff hopes hang by a thread.
The 2015 All-Pro Kuechly and safety Kurt Coleman have been ruled out at Seattle (7-3-1 ) with concussions. Defensive end Mario Addison, the team's leader with 6 1-2 sacks, will miss his second straight game with a foot injury. Ron Rivera's team desperately needs a win to hang in a crowded race for a playoff spot in the NFC.
Kuechly traveled with the team to the Bay Area for practice at San Jose State; the team stayed on the West Coast to cut down on travel time. The Panthers lost to the Raiders last week 35-32, after surrendering an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter.
''I thought he did a really nice job,'' Rivera said of Kuechly, who spent the week in the concussion protocol. ''(He) just talked to the guys, was in communication with them. We'll see how it goes.''
Kuechly will miss his second straight start after suffering a scary head injury in a victory over the Saints on Nov. 17. Fourth-year linebacker A.J. Klein will likely make his second straight start in place of the perennial Pro Bowler.
Rivera said Klein, ''practiced really well'' during the week. Shaq Thompson, a first-round pick in 2015, could also rotate in. Michael Griffin and Tre Boston are expected to start at safety with Coleman out.
Klein, a fifth-round pick in 2013, replaced Kuechly in three games early in 2015 after sustaining a concussion in the season opener. Klein had a forced fumble and five tackles against the Raiders, but was in coverage on a 47-yard completion to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, which set up the winning field goal in the fourth quarter.
''Perception is unfair because of what happened. The perception is he got beat.'' said Rivera. ''There's more to the game and that's what I think people need to understand.''
Carolina is three games behind the NFC South-leading Atlanta (7-4) and behind the Washington Redskins (6-4-1) for the final wild-card spot. Five teams enter the weekend within a game of the final seed with five weeks left.
The Panthers (4-7) have been decimated by injuries along the offensive line, and lately on defense, after remaining mostly injury free during their run to Super Bowl 50 last season. But Rivera likes his team's mindset despite 2016 not going to plan.
''I think it's very good, I really do,'' Rivera said. ''They seem to be relaxed, loose and have good energy, which I think is important. So we'll see.''
The Panthers play the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field this week after getting two wins against them in the 2015 season, including the divisional round of the playoffs 31-24.
Carolina will also be without right tackle Daryl Williams after suffering a left ankle injury in the second quarter against the Raiders. Right guard Trai Turner replaced Williams at tackle in the second half after not playing the position since high school.
Additionally, the Panthers this week placed their top two centers Ryan Kalil (shoulder) and his backup Gino Gradkowski (knee) on injured reserve. Tyler Larsen is expected to make his first career start at center after playing his first offensive snaps last week against the Raiders. The only member of the offensive line playing in the same position he started the season is left guard Andrew Norwell.
''I thought they've done well,'' Rivera said of the offensive line. ''I thought Trai Turner's handled it very nicely. It's a real plus to have a guy like that.''
The Seahawks' vaunted defense ranks first in scoring and seventh overall. Safety Earl Thomas (hamstring) and lineman Michael Bennett (knee) are listed as probable. Thomas missed his first career start last week when Seattle lost in Tampa Bay, 14-5. Bennett missed the last five games after having surgery on his knee.
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