It's time to take stock of where the Panthers stand entering the final weeks of the 2013 season. Carolina's playoff seeding is entirely determined by the two remaining head-to-head games with the Saints. Win those and the Panthers win the NFC South, lose or split and the wild card is the best chance.
Carolina is currently second in the NFC South, and to understand why we turn to the league's tiebreaking procedure.
1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
5. Strength of victory.
6. Strength of schedule.
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
9. Best net points in common games.
10. Best net points in all games.
11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
12. Coin toss
The Panthers and Saints haven't played each other yet, making No.1 void and both teams are undefeated in the NFC South which eliminates No.2. Unfortunately Carolina's early-season egg laying has come back to haunt them. The third procedure drops like a hammer on the back of two losses to Buffalo and Arizona, each of which were won by New Orleans.
This factor can be mitigated if the Panthers beat the Jets. It would make Carolina 3-1 against the AFC East, while the best New Orleans can finish is 2-2 with losses to New York and New England. Factor in the Saints' loss to Seattle and the common games are tied.
If Carolina and New Orleans split the head-to-head and both teams win out we move to tiebreaker No.4, which the Saints also own. They would hold a 10-2 record in the NFC, while the Panthers would finish 9-3.
It's unlikely we get past this point, and we can explore the possibilities of further ties later. Essentially the answer is simple: Beat the Saints twice. It's the surefire way the Panthers win the NFC South without having to rely on any weird scenarios.