The Carolina Panthers have won five straight games and suddenly find themselves the toast of the league. Of course, toasting will cease if Carolina gets roasted Monday night on national television by a Patriots team that seems to be hitting its stride.

Thursday, Panthers coach Ron Rivera resisted the notion that the Patriots will serve as a measuring stick for the team’s progress.

“To me, they are all litmus tests,” said Rivera. “They are all important because it is our next, most important, game because it is the one we are about to play. That’s kind of been my mantra. I don’t want these guys to get ahead of themselves. I want these guys to understand that we have to take care of business every week, so every week is an important game. You know, heck, our first game was important, our second one was, and this one is important just like last week as well. Is it a litmus test? Yeah, they all are.”

Rivera, who played for the Bears in the 1980s and was a linebacker for Chicago’s Super Bowl-winning team, has been coaching in the league since 1999. While with the Eagles, Bears and Chargers, he’s coached against New England. He seems aware that securing a victory over the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick – which the Panthers did last week, 10-9 – is impressive. Still, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have a resume that’s a bit lengthier than anything his surging Panthers have dealt with.

“We are playing one of the elites in this league, who just also happens to have one of the elite quarterbacks in this league,” said Rivera.

With the Patriots’ getting players back from injuries over the past few weeks, Rivera notes that the team that takes the field against his team may be different than the one his team’s been viewing on film.