CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — The Carolina Panthers find themselves unbeaten and in control of the NFC at the midway point of the season.
And they have winnable games ahead — at least on paper.
The Panthers (8-0) have at least a two-game lead over every team in the conference — and a three-game lead over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South — entering what would appear to be a manageable stretch of games.
Carolina's next four opponents — the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints —all are below .500 and have a combined record of 11-22.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera knows his team will have to adapt to being in a rather unfamiliar position as being the hunted instead of the hunter.
"The danger is taking someone lightly," Rivera said.
Or surrendering a fourth quarter lead.
If there has been on Achilles heel for the Panthers it has been inability to put things away late in games.
The Panthers surrendered a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago, fell behind by a field goal in overtime and wound up winning 29-26 on a 52-yard field goal by Graham Gano.
Carolina led the Packers by 23 points on Sunday, missed a field goal and nearly squandered the entire lead in the fourth quarter. It took a Thomas Davis interception at the goal line to seal Carolina's 37-29 victory.
"It's almost like we like torturing ourselves." tight end Greg Olsen said after the game.
Regardless, the Panthers are finding a way to get things done.
"We've just got to clean a lot of things up. It wasn't a pretty eight (wins), but it is eight and that's gorgeous in itself," Cam Newton said after throwing three touchdown passes and running for another score in Carolina's 12th straight regular season win Sunday.
The Panthers are one of three unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL.
The others, New England and Cincinnati, have garnered more attention throughout the season, as have the Denver Broncos and now twice-beaten Packers, who were a 3-popint favorite against Carolina on the road entering the weekend.
That hasn't particularly bothered the Panthers, a team that has won back-to-back NFC South championships and still managed to mostly fly under the radar.
"We know who we are as a team," safety Roman Harper said. "We know who we are as a defense, as an offense, and we don't worry about what everybody else has to say and what they rank us and this that and the other, because in this locker room, we think we are the best team whenever we line up."