(Reuters) - The Carolina Panthers improved their season record to 13-0 on Sunday and became the first team to clinch a first-round playoff bye in the National Football League.
The Cam Newton-led Panthers, runaway winners of the NFC South, routed the Atlanta Falcons 38-0 and are two games better than the 11-2 Arizona Cardinals in the NFC standings.
The top two teams in each conference receive a first-round playoff bye, a significant advantage in a league that uses a cut-throat, single elimination postseason format.
The Cardinals, who lead the NFC West, are the only other NFC team assured of a playoff berth at this point.
No AFC team has clinched a playoff spot yet.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Larry Fine