Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers’ goal? Ryan Kalil says it isn’t finishing 16-0

Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil (67) says finishing the regular season 16-0 isn’t the most important thing for the team.
Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil (67) says finishing the regular season 16-0 isn’t the most important thing for the team. Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers might be chasing history as potentially the third NFL team to finish the regular season undefeated.

But one of their veteran players says what they’re most interested in chasing is the top seed in the NFC.

“The 16-0 thing isn’t important to this team as much as getting that first seed,” center Ryan Kalil said after the Panthers’ 41-38 victory over the New Orleans Saints. “I think home-field advantage is a big deal for us, and that’s what we’re going to be working for, not the 16-0. Getting that No. 1 seed, that’s the (goal).”

The Panthers (12-0) have a two-game edge on Arizona (10-2) for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, with four games left. Two of those are against the fading Falcons (6-6), who have dropped six of seven games since a 5-0 start.

Several of Kalil’s teammates agreed that the goal is not trying to match the 1972 Dolphins, who finished 17-0 and won the Super Bowl, or the 2007 Patriots, who went 16-0 in the regular season before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

“(To) the outside world, the media, (an undefeated season) sells. It’s great hype,” defensive end Jared Allen said Monday. “But as a team, I don’t think the goal has ever changed. You’ve got to win the week ahead of you. We accomplished the first goal – win the division.”

Tight end Greg Olsen says as the Panthers start “checking boxes” on their goals list, 16-0 comes after clinching the division, securing home-field advantage and a first-round bye, and getting to the Super Bowl.

The Panthers took care of the first box Sunday when they wrapped up their third consecutive NFC South title. They can clinch an opening-round bye this week, and the earliest they could claim home-field advantage is Week 15.

Olsen said beating Atlanta this week would put the Panthers in a “pretty good position” to take care of the rest of their list – “and that’s our main focus right now,” he added.

That said, Olsen said players can’t ignore the bigger picture as each week passes with another victory.

“You do have to step back at times and just take a more broad look at what we’ve accomplished thus far,” Olsen said.

The Panthers will face Atlanta twice in a 15-day stretch beginning Sunday in Charlotte.

“We have four games, so the ball’s in our court. We really control our destiny,” Kalil said. “So it’s a matter of us winning these next four games. The best way to do that is to start with this one (against) Atlanta. It’s a good football team.”

All of the Panthers’ remaining opponents remain in playoff contention, including the Giants (5-7) and Tampa Bay (6-6).

The Panthers were in a similar situation as those teams a year ago, needing a strong stretch run to make the playoffs.

“In December, teams are fighting for their lives,” Olsen said. “We understand what it’s like to be on their side. They’re going to come out with everything they have, and we have to be ready for everybody’s best shot.”

The Panthers have never been a top seed in the playoffs. They were a No. 2 seed three times, after each of their only other 12-win seasons – in 1996, 2008 and 2013.

Carolina has played in three NFC Championship Games in its 21-year history, each time on the road. The Panthers lost at Green Bay in 1996, beat Philadelphia in 2003 to advance to their only Super Bowl, and lost at Seattle two years later.

Allen was with Minnesota in 2009 when the Vikings lost the NFC Championship Game 31-28 in overtime. Allen and Carolina safety Roman Harper, who was on that Saints team, often discuss the 2009 title game.

“I always joke with Rome (Harper), if you all would have had to come to us in ’09, it would have been a different story,” Allen said.

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

NFL’s 12-0 starts

The 2015 Carolina Panthers are the ninth NFL team in the Super Bowl era to start a season 12-0. The nine:

Year

Team

W-L*

Playoff result

1972

Miami Dolphins

14-0

Won Super Bowl

1985

Chicago Bears

15-1

Won Super Bowl

1998

Denver Broncos

14-2

Won Super Bowl

2005

Indianapolis Colts

14-2

Lost divisional round

2007

New England Patriots

16-0

Lost Super Bowl

2009

Indianapolis Colts

14-2

Lost Super Bowl

2009

New Orleans Saints

13-3

Won Super Bowl

2011

Green Bay Packers

15-1

Lost divisional round

2015

Carolina Panthers

?

?

* final regular season

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