Most NFL coaches would rather discuss politics or religion than the playoffs – at least at midseason.

Former Colts coach Jim Mora will forever have a place in the annals of YouTube, thanks to his famously entertaining “Playoffs?” screed in 2001.

But Ron Rivera waded into the topic Monday when he was asked whether his third Panthers team was beginning to take on the look of a playoff club.

“Yes, it does,” he said. “It feels like a team that has an opportunity, has a chance to go forward and be better. We’re not anywhere (near) where we need to be. There’s a lot for us to do, a lot for us to learn.”

Rivera made it to the Super Bowl as a player with the 1985 Bears and made it back as Chicago’s defensive coordinator 21 years later. While he wasn’t comparing the Panthers (5-3) to either of those teams, Rivera didn’t shy away from the playoff talk when it came up Monday.

“I’m confident in who our guys are. And I’m an optimist,” Rivera said. “But the thing I want to stress is this is the next most important game we play because it’s the one we’re about, and that’s the 49ers.”

If the playoffs started this week, the Panthers would get the last of the six NFC playoff spots.

But the postseason doesn’t start this week. And of Carolina’s eight remaining games, five are against teams with winning records, starting Sunday at San Francisco (6-2).

A sixth team – Miami (4-4) – is at .500.