The Panthers are securely in the playoffs, but their seeding has yet to be decided.
Carolina (11-4) would be a No. 1, 2, 5 or 6 seed depending upon how this week plays out, and coach Ron Rivera knows the most important thing for Carolina is to win Sunday in the Georgia Dome.
“But if we don’t take care of business against Atlanta, who knows? Our focus has to be going down to Atlanta and playing the best football we can,” Rivera said.
Here are the scenarios for this week that will decide the Panthers’ NFC playoff seeding:
The Panthers could be the No. 1 seed: If San Francisco wins out, Seattle loses to St. Louis on Sunday and the Panthers beat Atlanta, Carolina is the No. 1 seed. The 49ers and Seahawks would finish with the same 12-4 records, and the two teams have split their head-to-head meetings. The 49ers would win the division based on their record in the NFC West and go head-to-head for the No. 1 seed with Carolina, which holds the tiebreaker over the 49ers via a Week 10 win.
The Panthers could be the No. 2 seed: If the No. 1 seed is out of reach and Carolina beats Atlanta, it wins the NFC South and gets the No. 2 seed. The Panthers could also get the No. 2 seed by losing at Atlanta, but would need New Orleans to lose to Tampa Bay. A No. 2 seed would earn Carolina a first-round bye and the opportunity to host at least one playoff game.
The Panthers cannot be the No. 3 or 4 seed: The Panthers cannot finish with more than five losses, which is still fewer than any potential winner of the NFC East or NFC North. The top four seeds are reserved for division winners.
The Panthers could be the No. 5 or 6 seed: If Carolina loses at Atlanta and New Orleans beats Tampa Bay, the Saints win the NFC South and get the No. 2 seed and send Carolina to the wild card. Whether the Panthers get the No. 5 or 6 seed would depend on what San Francisco and Arizona do. A No. 5 seed gives a team its only hope of hosting a playoff game, and that would have to be against the other wild card team in the NFC Championship Game.