Rapid Reaction: Panthers 30, Broncos 10

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

About a month ago, there was a lot of talk about the upcoming "brutal schedule'' for the Carolina Panthers.

After midseason homecoming games with Detroit and on the road at Oakland, there seemed to be a wait-and-see consensus on the Panthers. Well, the waiting might be over or maybe it's just begun.

With Sunday's win against Denver, the Panthers have won three of their last four games and they've done it in impressive style. Since a Nov. 23 loss to Atlanta, the Panthers have defeated the Packers, Buccaneers and Broncos.

At 11-3, they've suddenly got a shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC. And the good news is we'll get to see what, essentially, is a playoff game next Sunday.

The Panthers play the Giants, who were 11-2 heading into Sunday night's game at Dallas. They've got to go into Giants Stadium (and to New Orleans for the regular-season finale). Yeah, that's a nice way to cap off the "brutal'' part of the schedule. But, if the Panthers keep playing like they are, they could go into the playoffs already established as the NFC's best team.