In the NFL, a slow start doesn't doom a team's playoff hopes.
In every season since 1987, at least one team with a .500 or worse record through eight games reached the playoffs.
And in the past seven seasons, 15 teams that started 4-4 or worse ended up qualifying for the postseason. The Panthers advanced to the second round before losing to NFC champion Seattle after a 3-4-1 start last season.
Eight of those 15 teams, including the Panthers, won at least one playoff game.
This season the Panthers (8-0) won't have any trouble reaching the playoffs. They are one of six teams (the Falcons, Jets, Raiders, Bucs and Titans) that have already surpassed their win totals from last season. Four more teams - the Jaguars, Vikings, Giants and Redskins - can join them with a win in Week 10.
One team that almost never has to worry about overcoming a slow start is the New England Patriots. The Patriots (8-0) are one of three remaining undefeated teams and have won 11 consecutive games going back to the playoffs last season.
With a win Sunday against the Giants, the Patriots would become the fifth team in NFL history, and the first since the 1983-1998 San Francisco 49ers, to have at least 15 consecutive winning seasons. The Cowboys from 1966-1985 have the NFL record with 20 consecutive winning seasons under Tom Landry.
With three undefeated teams - Cincinnati is the other - the NFL has the most ever at this point of the season. Entering 2015, 21 teams in the Super Bowl era started 8-0. Of those 21 clubs, all 21 made the playoffs, 12 advanced to the Super Bowl, and eight won the Super Bowl.
So how important is such a record halfway through the schedule?
''It's huge,'' says Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. ''We've put ourselves in the position that we're in and there aren't a lot of teams that get to 8-0. We understand that. We know that it's something that's hard to do. We've got to keep pushing and keep the same mentality that we've had the first half of the season and do whatever we can to keep winning these games in the second half.''
JERSEY REPORT: Joe Haden might play for an NFL also-ran, but his jersey sure is popular.
Just as at the beginning of the season, the Cleveland cornerback's jersey is the best seller, according to the DICK'S Sporting Goods Jersey Report. Haden, despite an injury-ravaged season for a 2-7 team, leads Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Among the biggest movers in the movement of jerseys off the shelves since the season began have been Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly and Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Kuechly is the highest-ranked defensive player at No. 4 overall, while Brown has moved from outside the top 10 when the 2015 schedule began to eighth overall.
Most impressive has been the growing popularity of Panthers QB Cam Newton, who began the season ranked 19th and now is up to 10th. Of course, Carolina is the only undefeated team in the NFC.
''One of the purest expressions of fandom is a jersey purchase,'' says Ryan Eckel, vice president of brand marketing for DICK'S Sporting Goods. ''That's why we think that the Jersey Report, which reflects current in-store and online sales across the country, provides such a compelling national snap shot of where NFL fans' passions lie. In particular, it's really interesting to see how players' and teams' on-field performance impacts their Jersey Report rankings over the course of a season.''
PASSING THREAT: Versatile Jarvis Landry has added passing to his repertoire. The Miami Dolphins' top receiver and kick returner took a handoff on a sweep last week, stopped and threw back to quarterback Ryan Tannehill for a 9-yard gain. ''It was awesome,'' the 5-10 Landry said. ''I told Ryan when I got to the sideline, now I know why 5-foot-10 quarterbacks can't make it in the league, because you can see over the tall guys. I couldn't really see him. I just threw to the spot where he was supposed to be.'' Landry said it was his first completion in a game ever, pee wee included. Tannehill said he wasn't worried about Landry taking his job. ''No. But he got it there.'' Tannehill's only other NFL reception came on a deflected pass he also threw. The last time he caught a pass thrown by someone else was in 2010, before he switched from receiver to quarterback at Texas A&M.
OFFENSIVE TEAR: The 8-0 Patriots have scored at least one point in 31 consecutive quarters, tied for the longest streak in NFL history. So if they get any points in the first quarter at the Giants on Sunday, the Patriots would surpass the St. Louis Rams of 1999-2000 - you know, the Greatest Show on Turf - and the 2005 Indianapolis Colts led by Peyton Manning for the longest such streak in NFL history.
So far, New England has scored 58 points in the first period, 82 in the second, 60 in the third and 76 in the fourth this season.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and Sports Writers Steven Wine and Simmi Buttar contributed to this notebook.
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