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Panthers claim NFC South crown and first-round playoff bye

(Reuters) - The Carolina Panthers clinched the NFC South title and a first-round playoff bye by beating the Atlanta Falcons 21-20 in their regular season finale on Sunday.

The Panthers, winners of 11 of their last 12 games, trailed most of the game against the disappointing Falcons (4-12) but overtook Atlanta when Cam Newton hit Greg Olsen with a seven-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter for a 21-17 lead.

Carolina won the division crown for the first time in five years and have advanced to the playoffs for the first time since that success in 2008.

The Panthers improved to 12-4 for the season.

(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Gene Cherry)