The Panthers' sole focus this week is winning Sunday's game in Cleveland, but in the back of the players' minds, they know that taking care of business Sunday is only the beginning.
"I think we're in a spot where we need to win out," safety Eric Reid said. "If we are going to make the playoffs, that's the only way to do it.
"If I had to guess, we need to win out and then cheer on a couple teams to help us get in."
The Panthers' four-game slide that has them sitting at 6-6 does mean that even winning out – while very likely to earn Carolina a playoff bid – wouldn't guarantee the Panthers a spot. But even with all the struggles, it's possible that fans wake up Tuesday morning knowing that their Panthers again "control their own destiny."
For that to happen, here's what Week 14 would have to look like:
Carolina beats Cleveland.
Philadelphia beats Dallas.
Seattle beats Minnesota.
New York Giants beat Washington.
If those four things happen, the Panthers again know that if they win out, they are in. If those four things happen and the Panthers finish 10-6, the "worst-case scenario" for Carolina is a three-way tie for the two NFC wild card spots – ties in which the Seahawks take the No. 5 seed based on sweeping the other two teams and the Panthers take No. 6 based on either their victory over the Eagles or their victory over the Cowboys.
The Panthers only need three things to happen in Week 14 to return to "they'd be in the playoffs if the season ended today" status. If the Panthers, Seahawks and Eagles win this weekend, then Carolina will be listed as the No. 6 seed in those playoff graphics you'll see everywhere after the dust settles on the Seattle-Minnesota matchup on Monday Night Football. The cool graphics also will flash Carolina as the sixth seed if the Panthers and Seahawks win while the Redskins lose.
Win or lose Sunday in Cleveland, the Panthers still will be mathematically alive for the playoffs. Win all four of their remaining games, and the Panthers are highly likely to make the playoffs.
But wouldn't it provide an extra boost if the Panthers enter Week 15 knowing that winning out guarantees a return to the postseason?
"We lost four in a row," safety Mike Adams said. "Why can't we win four in a row?"