CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It took a rare Sunday off for the Carolina Panthers to finally win something big this season — the No. 1 overall draft pick.
The Panthers are on the clock for April's draft and potentially in position to take Stanford star quarterback Andrew Luck after wins by Cincinnati and Denver allowed Carolina to clinch the league's worst record.
The Broncos (4-11) rallied with 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat Houston 24-23, while the Bengals (4-11) got four touchdown passes from Carson Palmer to beat San Diego 34-20 in the snow for their second straight win.
That meant with one week left in the season, nobody can match Carolina (2-13) for futility in the NFL this season.
The only other time the Panthers have had the No. 1 pick — before their inaugural season in 1995 — they traded it away for more picks.
Now the question is: Will Luck leave school early?
Most draft analysts say the 6-foot-4 junior is the best prospect in the potential draft pool. He's completed 70.2 percent of his passes this season for 3,051 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Luck, who will lead the Cardinal (11-1) against Virginia Tech (11-2) in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, has not revealed his intentions.
The Panthers drafted Jimmy Clausen in the second round of this year's draft, but the former Notre Dame star has struggled to lead the NFL's worst offense. Clausen has a league-low 56.8 passer rating and has thrown just two touchdown passes and eight interceptions while getting little support from an inexperienced group of receivers after Steve Smith.
The Panthers managed 119 yards — second-fewest in team history — in a 27-3 loss at Pittsburgh on Thursday.Comment on this story
Sunday's results mean the Panthers' season finale next week at Atlanta won't have any draft impact as John Fox likely coaches his final game. Owner Jerry Richardson has denied Fox a contract extension.
Carolina's good draft positioning won't spill over into the second round.
New England, not Carolina, will pick 33rd overall. The Panthers traded their 2011 second-round pick to the Patriots last April for an extra third-round pick so they could take Armanti Edwards. The former Appalachian State quarterback was converted to receiver and has spent most of the season deactivated on game days.