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Panthers control their playoff fate

Steve Kornacki joins Football Night in American to explain how losses by the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks in Week 14 impact the NFC playoff picture, specifically the Detroit Lions.

After every given NFL Sunday, there are intriguing facts, quirks, and oddities that emerge. Here’s one that got my attention in Peter King’s Football Morning in America.

“If the Panthers win out,” King writes, “they win the NFC South and host a Wild Card game Jan. 15 or 16, likely as the number four seed.”

The Panthers host the Steelers and the Lions. Carolina then visits the Buccaneers and the Saints.

Currently 5-8, a sweep of the final four games would put them at 9-8. That would, at worst, tie the Buccaneers at 9-8 or the Falcons at 9-8. (A three-way tie can’t happen, because the Bucs visit the Falcons in Week 18.)

Carolina would win the tiebreaker over Tampa via a 2-0 season sweep. The Panthers would win the tiebreaker over the Falcons with a 5-1 versus 2-4 record in the division.

It won’t be easy. The Steelers are one loss away from Mike Tomlin’s first losing season, ever. The Lions are making a late-season playoff push. And games in the division are always a challenge.

If it happens, the NFC South champion will have a record above .500, albeit barely. Which would reduce calls for removing the guaranteed home game for every division winner.

Not that the league will ever change that rule. The owners individually love it, because it gives each of them, in theory, a 25-percent chance of hosting a playoff game, each and every year.

This year, the Panthers could be hosting a playoff game in the wild-card round, likely against the Cowboys. If that happens, Steve Wilks should be the new head coach.

On October 10, owner David Tepper said Wilks could earn the title if he does an “incredible job.” At this point, he has. If they win the division, it would be time to add an exclamation point, like that old TV show co-hosted by Fran Tarkenton.