The Panthers missed Jonathan Stewart in their first loss of the season on Sunday in Atlanta. They could have their top running back on the field when they try to lock up the NFC's top seed in Week 17.
ESPN's Ed Werder reported Tuesday that the Panthers are "hopeful" Stewart will return to the lineup next Sunday against the 6-9 Buccaneers. Stewart -- who has missed the past two weeks with a foot injury -- ran on a treadmill and could practice on Wednesday, according to a source.
In a perfect world, the Panthers would rest Stewart's foot until the divisional playoffs. But Week 17 still has meaning for the Panthers, who would fall to the NFC's No. 2 seed if they were upset by Tampa Bay on Sunday and the Cardinals topped the Seahawks at home.