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Panthers clinch home-field advantage in playoffs

The Carolina Panthers (15-1) are the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs for the first time in their history following a 38-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10) on Sunday. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Cam Newton locked up league MVP honors with a supremely productive, mistake-free game in a season full of them. Newton finished 21 of 26 for 290 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He added two more scores on the ground. He completes his fifth pro regular season 296 of 495 (59.8 percent), 3,837 yards, 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He added 636 yards and 10 touchdowns on 132 carries. Carson Palmer and Tom Brady -- Newton's closest competition -- both had excellent seasons, but this isn't a fair fight. We're calling it.
  1. This game illustrated just how deep and dangerous this Panthers offense has become under Mike Shula. Carolina put 38 points on the board playing without their top wide receiver (Kelvin Benjamin) or running back (Jonathan Stewart). The team topped 500 points for the first time in franchise history and scored 30 or more points eight times. Add a league-leading 39 takeaways by the defense, and it's little surprise this team flirted with perfection this season.
  1. Jameis Winston didn't end the season with a strong performance, but there's still plenty of reason for optimism for the Buccaneers heading into 2016 and beyond. Winston threw every pass by a Buccaneers quarterback and became only the third rookie QB in NFL history to surpass 4,000 yards through the air. Bottom line: He made the Bucs look smart for taking him with the first pick. It wasn't long ago that many pundits saw him as an erratic prospect doomed to fail.
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