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Panthers secure No. 1 pick in draft

In a season filled with disappointments, the Carolina Panthers received a consolation prize Sunday, when a pair of unlikely outcomes guaranteed the Panthers the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

The top pick goes to the team with the lowest winning percentage, and the Panthers (2-13) secured that Sunday when the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals picked up their fourth victories.

Denver trailed 17-0 at halftime to the Houston Texans but rallied for a 24-23 win. Cincinnati, facing a San Diego Chargers team that had won six of its previous seven games and had to win to keep alive its playoff hopes, rolled to a 34-20 victory.

The Panthers wrap up their season Sunday at Atlanta. The 2011 NFL Draft is scheduled for April 28-30.

Carolina has come close to selecting No. 1 in the draft twice before in its history but never actually has. The Panthers won a coin toss with fellow expansion team Jacksonville for the first pick in the 1995 draft. Carolina, however, traded it to Cincinnati and selected quarterback Kerry Collins at No. 5 and defensive tackle Shawn King at No. 36 with the picks acquired from the Bengals.

In 2001, the Panthers did have the worst record in the league at 1-15, but the expansion Houston Texans got the No. 1 selection. After the Texans chose quarterback David Carr – who later spent the 2007 season with the Panthers – Carolina took defensive end Julius Peppers.

The Panthers hope to use the top pick to help them turn around their fortunes, but it's certainly not something they actively pursued.

They were in position for the No. 1 pick heading into Week 15 but played arguably their best game of the season in a 19-12 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Cincinnati won the same day, so the Panthers still could have lost out and been guaranteed the No. 1 spot, but that was the farthest thought from their mind.

Following Thursday's loss at Pittsburgh, linebacker Jon Beason talked about his desire to go out on a winning note - without any shortcuts. In a season where the Panthers should be willing to take victories any way they can get them, Beason wants a shot at one more win that would be viewed as legitimate.

"The thing you hope for is maybe (Atlanta) can lose this week and maybe they'll have to play their starters Week 17," Beason said. "You want to go out and compete against the best. It's always tough when you know a team is going to rest their guys."

If the Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football, they'd wrap up the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. If, however, they lose, they won't even be guaranteed a bye or a home game heading into Sunday's game against the Panthers at the Georgia Dome.

Still, whether the Falcons go all out against the Panthers or rest up, it won't be an easy assignment. Atlanta stands as one of just three NFL teams undefeated at home this season, while Carolina is the only team not to win a road game.

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