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 divisonal playoff showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.

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 already has 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 in the NFL this season and a defense allowing a league-low 14.9 points per game since Week 4.