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As the NFC South has been one of the worst overall divisions in the NFL this season, it seemed that Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would simply win it by default, maybe even with a losing record. But the Carolina Panthers have gone and made things a bit more interesting lately.

Despite firing their head coach, trading their best player in Christian McCaffrey, and all the issues with which they’ve had to deal at the quarterback position, the Panthers are riding a two-game winning streak with Sam Darnold under center and sit just one game back of the Bucs in the NFC South.

Can the Panthers make the playoffs? Absolutely. Actually, if things go the right way this weekend, Carolina could be a first-place team come Sunday evening.

How the Panthers can take over first place in the NFC South in Week 15

Sam Darnold ahead of a Panthers-Seahawks matchup in December 2022
Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold | Jane Gershovich/Getty Images

While Sam Darnold didn’t have a great game this past Sunday, the Panthers rode the rushing attack of Chuba Hubbard, D’Onta Foreman, and Raheem Blackshear to a 30-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

After a 1-5 start, Carolina now sits at 5-8 and is just one game behind the Buccaneers, who took a 35-7 beating at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers to drop to 6-7.

So here’s the deal. If the Panthers win their Week 15 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay loses to the Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina takes over first place in the NFC South. While the Panthers and Bucs would have the same 6-7 record, the Panthers own the head-to-head tiebreaker by way of their 21-3 victory over Tampa in Week 7.

And this is certainly a very reasonable scenario. The Panthers get an average Steelers team that could be without Kenny Pickett, who entered concussion protocol after leaving Pittsburgh’s Week 14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, meaning Mitch Trubisky or Mason Rudolph will be under center on Sunday.

The Buccaneers, on the other hand, get a Bengals team that’s won five in a row and nine of its last 11.

The Atlanta Falcons could also find themselves at 6-7 if they beat the New Orleans Saints, but the Panthers own a tiebreaker over them as well. While the two teams split their two head-to-head matchups, Carolina owns a better record within the division.

Can the Panthers make the playoffs?


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Given the remaining schedules of the four teams in the NFC South, all of whom technically still have a shot at winning the division, the Panthers can certainly make the NFL Playoffs for the first time in five years, especially seeing as how they still have another game against the Buccaneers in Week 17.

Here’s a look at the remaining schedules for all four NFC South teams.

Carolina Panthers

  • Week 15: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Week 16: vs. Detroit Lions
  • Week 17: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Week 18: at New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Week 15: vs. Cincinnati Bengals
  • Week 16: at Arizona Cardinals
  • Week 17: vs. Carolina Panthers
  • Week 18: at Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons

  • Week 15: at New Orleans Saints
  • Week 16: at Baltimore Ravens
  • Week 17: vs. Arizona Cardinals
  • Week 18: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

New Orleans Saints

  • Week 15: vs. Atlanta Falcons
  • Week 16: at Cleveland Browns
  • Week 17: at Philadelphia Eagles
  • Week 18: vs. Carolina Panthers

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