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Panthers' playoff picture after Sunday's games

Vikings find the end zone against Miami

The Panthers' pursuit of a playoff berth still requires some help after Sunday's games, but above all the Panthers need to help themselves.

The Vikings' 41-17 victory over the Dolphins means that Minnesota (7-6-1) will maintain its hold on the NFC's final playoff spot heading into Week 16. And if the Panthers (6-7) lose to the Saints on Monday Night Football, Carolina won't be mathematically eliminated but would be pushed to the very brink.

On the other hand, if the Panthers bounce back from their five-game slide and win their final three games, their chances of making the playoffs for the fifth time in six years would be fairly good. They'd still need a loss by the Vikings either next week at the Lions or in Week 17 against the Bears.

A pair of NFC East teams in Philadelphia and Washington improved to 7-7 and closed on the Cowboys who fell to 8-6, and a Seahawks team in line for the first NFC wild card fell back to the pack at 8-6. But according to the New York Times playoff simulator, the Panthers will make the playoffs two-thirds of the time if they win out and the Vikings lose a game regardless of what that quartet of teams does.

"Even though things the last few weeks haven't gone our way, we put ourselves in a good enough position early on in the season to give ourselves a chance here at the end of the year to play for something that matters," linebacker Luke Kuechly said Friday. "We still have life."