The Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills are on the verge of making history. A 37-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday was the Panthers' sixth win in seven games. No team has lost seven...

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The Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills are on the verge of making history.


A 37-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday was the Panthers’ sixth win in seven games.


No team has lost seven of its first eight games and rallied to make the playoffs, but Carolina (7-8) can earn the last wild-card spot in the NFC by beating the New Orleans Saints (7-8) at home next Sunday.


“We’ve given ourselves another opportunity next week. We play another division foe at our place, and we’ll see how it all settles,” Carolina coach John Fox said. “These guys have believed all year that it isn’t where you start but where you finish, and we have one more step to get into the next tournament.”


The Bills, meanwhile, won their sixth straight and are poised to become the second team to recover from an 0-4 start to make the playoffs. On Sunday, Buffalo (9-6) needs to win a home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and get a loss from the New York Jets (10-5) or Denver Broncos (9-6).


“It’s the same situation we’ve been in now for a long, long time,” quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. “In order for us to have a chance, we’ve got to go and win the next game.”


Pickett in charge


SAN FRANCISCO — Cody Pickett showed a lot of excitement and a little promise in his NFL debut yesterday.


In the San Francisco 49ers’ 41-7 loss to the Bills, the rookie quarterback out of the University of Washington came in during the third quarter because of a finger injury to 49ers starter Ken Dorsey.


In six series, Pickett endured two interceptions, two sacks and a fumble. He completed 4 of 10 passes for 55 yards.


But Pickett looked good at times, demonstrating arm strength and scrambling ability.


“I had a lot of energy,” Pickett said. “I just felt excited to go out there and play again. … I wish I did a few things different, but I have to learn from it.”


Dorsey is expected to start Sunday at New England.


Saban likes challenge


MIAMI — The decline of the Miami Dolphins, once a playoff perennial but lately an NFL laughingstock, failed to deter Nick Saban.


The LSU coach decided to join Miami because he believes he can turn around a losing team. After all, he did it with Michigan State and LSU.


“We’ve never ever taken over successful programs,” said Saban, who accepted the Miami job Saturday. “We’ve taken challenges that were difficult, worked hard and had an effect in a positive way. That’s one of the reasons I feel I can be successful in this challenge.”


Saban will take over in Miami after coaching LSU in its bowl game at Orlando against Iowa on Jan. 1.