December 13, 2015 / 10:05 PM / 2 years ago

Panthers first team to clinch first-round playoff bye

(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.

Carolina Panthers tight end Ed Dickson (84) catches a touchdown as Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (23) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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

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