Scott Fowler

Panthers could still lose No. 1 playoff seed to Arizona – but it’s unlikely

About this time every year, lots of NFL fans want to know about the tiebreaker system.

For the Carolina Panthers this season, I keep getting the same question from readers. If Carolina was to falter down the stretch and end up in a tie with Arizona, why would the Cardinals win the tiebreaker and the No. 1 NFC playoff seed?

The answer is simple. Carolina (13-0) and Arizona (11-2) don’t play each other in the regular season. If the teams were tied at the end of the regular season on Jan. 3 – it could only happen at either 13-3 or 14-2 – then the next tiebreaker would be record against other teams in the NFC.

In that scenario, Carolina’s losses would all come against NFC teams, because that’s all the Panthers have left to play. Right now the Panthers are 9-0 against the NFC. Arizona is 8-1. Because one of the Cardinals’ two losses is to AFC member Pittsburgh, they would have one less conference loss.

So at 14-2 or 13-3, the Panthers are in danger of having to go to Arizona for the NFC Championship game if Carolina advances that far. By going 2-1 or better over the last three games, however, the Panthers would clinch the No. 1 NFC seed for the first time in their 21-year history.

▪  It is noteworthy that the last three games Arizona plays – at Philadelphia and then home vs. Green Bay and Seattle, all potential playoff teams – are a lot tougher than the Panthers’ final three (at the New York Giants, at Atlanta and home vs. Tampa Bay). Bottom line: I think the Panthers have a 90 percent chance of taking the NFC’s No. 1 seed at this point.

▪  Left over from last week’s Observer spread of two full pages on Panthers fans superstitions about the team was this funny note I received from Grenoble, France, from a recent Davidson graduate.

“I am legitimately concerned I am responsible for the Panthers success,” wrote Cameron Clark. “I have always worried that the Panthers play worse when I watch. I have been living abroad in France since September, during which time the Panthers have not lost. I return to the United States just before the playoffs begin, but I worry my return may curse the team. ... Please advise?”

Although I am not a superstitious sort myself, I wrote back on behalf of the many Panthers fans who are, telling Clark: “I believe you should stay away as long as possible, or at least sneak into town so the Panthers do not know you are there.”

▪  Although so much attention goes to Golden State, San Antonio is quietly putting together another extraordinary NBA season. I believe those two teams are the best in the league and will meet in the Western Conference finals.

▪  Let’s close with a saying made popular by the comedian Steven Wright that may be appropriate for anyone who would like an excuse to sleep late on a vacation over the next couple of weeks. Said Wright: “The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

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