The Panthers are back in the playoff picture.
Carolina (5-8-1) would be in first place in the NFC South in all of those meaningless “if-the-season-ended-today” playoff graphics by virtue of its 19-17 win Sunday against Tampa Bay and after Atlanta (5-9) lost 27-20 to Pittsburgh.
The New Orleans Saints (5-8) can take over first place by winning at Chicago on Monday night. Even if they beat the Bears, though, the Saints will be eliminated from playoff contention if they lose to Atlanta next Sunday and Carolina beats Cleveland. Since Atlanta and Carolina play each other on the final Sunday, the winner of that game would take the division title. In the unlikely event of a tie, Carolina at 6-8-2 would edge New Orleans (7-9) on divisional record.
Here’s what has to happen for New Orleans to reach the playoffs:
-- If the Saints win their last three games, they clinch the NFC South.
-- If the Saints win two of their last three, they clinch the NFC South if the Panthers lose at least once and the Falcons lose at least once. It does not matter which two games the Saints win and which one they lose.
-- The Saints no longer can win the NFC South at 6-10. The winner of the Carolina-Atlanta game would finish ahead of them in that scenario.
The teams’ remaining schedules:
Saints: at Chicago, vs. Atlanta, at Tampa Bay
Atlanta: at New Orleans, vs. Carolina
Carolina: vs. Cleveland, at Atlanta