CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WGHP) — Here is a sentence that you would never think you were going to hear this year, the Carolina Panthers are in control of their playoff destiny.
That’s right, a Panthers team that was reeling at 1-4 at one point, fired its head coach Matt Rhule traded away its superstar running back Christian McCaffrey and released Week 1 starting quarterback Baker Mayfield is in position to possibly make one of the most unlikely postseason runs in NFL history.
Carolina now sits at 6-9 with renewed hope led by interim head coach Steve Wilks, a resurgent quarterback in Sam Darnold and a suddenly dominant rushing attack led by previous backup running backs D’Onta Foreman and Chubba Hubbard.
Now the Panthers are hoping to recapture the magic they had in 2014 when they went on a four-game winning streak to improve from 3-8-1 to 7-8-1 and win an unlikely NFC South title as well as a playoff game with a losing record.
That four-game winning streak spawned a franchise-record 19-game winning streak for the Panthers who carried over that miracle momentum to go 15-1 and make the Super Bowl the next season.
Here are all the scenarios that the Panthers can make the playoffs ahead of their pivotal Week 17 matchup against Tom Brady and their NFC South rival 7-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers on New Year’s Day.
It should be noted that the Atlanta Falcons are the only team mathematically eliminated from playoff contention in the NFC South.
Scenario A: Win Out and You’re In
The simplest of all the paths forward for the Panthers is the one where they control their own playoff fate.
With Carolina’s final two games being against divisional opponents with a Week 17 Matchup against the Buccaneers on New Year’s Day and a Week 18 matchup against the New Orleans Saints on Jan. 8, the Panthers will assure themselves of a playoff spot and NFC South title by simply winning both games and finishing with an 8-9 record.
In this scenario, it matters not what the Saints do in their Week 17 game against the 13-2 Philadelphia Eagles who boast the NFL’s best record or what the Buccaneers do in their Week 18 game against the Falcons.
If the Panthers win both of their remaining games they would clinch the fourth seed in the NFC as a division winner and host a home playoff game against the fifth seed in the NFC.
The fifth seed in the NFC will most likely be the Dallas Cowboys who sit at 12-4 and are in second place in the NFC East behind the Eagles. However, Dallas could win the NFC East if the Eagles were to lose all their remaining games against the Saints (Week 17) and the 8-6-1 New York Giants (Week 18).
Scenario B: A Win and a Little Help from Some Friends
This is where the Panthers’ fortunes become a little complex so buckle up.
First things first, every scenario where the Panthers win the NFC South involves them defeating the Buccaneers on New Year’s Day.
However, as long they defeat the Buccaneers, the Panthers could still win the NFC South even with a loss to the Saints in Week 18 if the following events occur:
- New Orleans loses to Philadelphia in Week 17
- Tampa Bay loses to Atlanta in Week 18
If the following events were to occur, Carolina would win the division with a 7-10 record and still host a home playoff game in the Wild Card round against either the Cowboys or the Eagles.
Scenario C: It’s Complicated, But Not Impossible
Scenario C is a very uncomfortable one for the Panthers full of breaks that would need to fall Carolina’s way.
It is technically possible for the Panthers to make the playoffs as a 7-9-1 Wild Card team without winning the NFC South under the following circumstances:
- Carolina ties with Tampa Bay in Week 17
- Carolina defeats New Orleans in Week 18
- Washington Commanders lose to the Cleveland Browns in Week 17
- Washington loses to Dallas in Week 18
- Seattle Seahawks lose to the New York Jets in Week 17
- Seattle loses to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18
- Detroit Lions lose to the Chicago Bears in Week 17
- Detroit ties with the Green Bay Packers in Week 18
- Green Bay Packers lose to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17
The odds of all these events happening currently sit at around 1%. So, the Panthers should avoid this scenario at all costs.