Inside Slant: Panthers vs. Bucs II

The Panthers in the playoffs with seven wins?<br><br> Not to say it will happen, but it could.<br><br> Believe it or not, the Panthers (6-8) could clinch a playoff spot this weekend. It's an extremely unlikely scenario, but the way things are happening for the Panthers right now you simply never know.<br><br> The Panthers face the Buccaneers at Tampa Bay on Sunday and then close the season at home against the New Orleans Saints on Jan. 2.

According to the NFL, there's one scenario that would assure the Panthers a spot in the playoffs regardless of what happens next week against the Saints.

The Panthers are in this week if: The Panthers beat Tampa Bay, St. Louis loses, Seattle wins, New Orleans loses or ties, and -- here's a ridiculous part -- the Dallas-Washington game ends in a tie.

However, things continue to fall Carolina's way.

Each week, it seems, the majority of teams the Panthers need to lose do just that.

Asked if it feels like the so-called football gods want the Panthers in the playoffs this year, Panthers fullback Brad Hoover said, "It is sort of weird and ironic that all of that is happening. But we're just trying to go out and win some games. So far it has worked in our favor."

Hoover admits he never thought the Panthers would be in contention with a 6-8 record.

"It's weird. I would never have thought we would be 6-8, period," Hoover said. "But that is the way the NFC has shaped up. We're trying to make the most of it and finish with a .500 record and try to get in. Once you get into the playoffs, you never know what can happen."

Said quarterback Jake Delhomme: "We can only control what we do. We came close the other night (in a 34-31 overtime loss to Atlanta). We would have put ourselves in a very nice position. Hopefully we can take care of business next week, and then who knows? We'll talk here next week and hope that things look rosy."

In any event, the fact the Panthers still would make the playoffs if the season ended today has helped ease the sting of Saturday night's emotional loss to the Falcons.

SERIES HISTORY: 9th meeting. Series tied 4-4. The Panthers have won three straight, including a 21-14 victory in November at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. In that game, Martin Gramatica missed three field goals, including one that would have put the Bucs ahead late in the game. QB Jake Delhomme drove Carolina to the winning touchdown, connecting on a 40-yard touchdown pass with Keary Colbert with less than one minute to play.

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