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David J. Phillip, Associated Press
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, left, yells at referee Jeff Triplette (42) during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011, in Houston. The Panthers defeated the Texans 28-13.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A quick glimpse at the numbers suggests the Panthers need to spend the majority of next offseason upgrading their defense.

But that's not necessarily the team's thinking.

Despite the fact the Panthers rank 23rd in the NFL in total defense — as opposed to fifth on offense — coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney feel the defense is much improved over the last month.

The Panthers (5-9) have held three of their last four opponents to fewer than 20 points.

Combine that with the face that the Panthers will get five starters back from injured reserve, including middle linebacker Jon Beason, and upgrading the defense may not be as big of a priority as some might think.

The Panthers host Tampa Bay (4-10) on Sunday.