Here is our weekly First Look at Seattle’s upcoming game:
Seahawks opponent: Carolina
Game time: 10 a.m., Sunday.
Coach: Ron Rivera
2014 record: 3-3-1
Last game: Lost at Green Bay 38-17.
The series: This is the seventh regular-season meeting, with the Seahawks leading the series 4-2. Seattle has won the last three, all at Carolina, including a 12-7 victory last season in the opening game of the year, clinched when the Seahawks recovered a fumble at the 8-yard-line in the final minutes. The Seahawks also beat Carolina 34-14 in the NFC Championship game in 2006.
The early line: Seahawks by 4.
Key players: QB Cam Newton. The former Heisman Trophy winner, now in his fourth year, remains a dangerous dual-threat, if still prone to erratic moments. Newton, who had off-season ankle surgery and then suffered a hairline fracture to his ribs in August, appears healthy now, rushing for 107 yards in an overtime game against the Bengals on Oct. 12. He also has cut down on his interceptions, having thrown three, while also tossing eight touchdowns. Newton, though, doesn’t have a pass of longer than 37 yards or a run of longer than 13 this season.
TE Greg Olsen: The Seahawks have struggled to defend good tight ends all season — eight of the 16 touchdowns Seattle has allowed this year have been scored by tight ends. And now here comes another good one in Olsen, an eight-year vet off to the best start of his career, having caught 41 passes, tied for eighth in the NFL, for 493 yards and five touchdowns. Olsen had eight catches for 105 yards Sunday at Green Bay to rank as one of Carolina’s only bright spots.
LB Luke Kuechly: The third-year middle linebacker leads the NFL with 82 tackles but is coming off one of his most embarrassing moments, being ejected from Sunday’s game against Green Bay for accidentally elbowing an official. And while he’s put up big numbers this year, observers at times have noted missing a few more tackles than in past seasons.
Carolina’s keys to success: The Panthers thought their key to success in 2014 would be a defense that ranked second in the NFL in points allowed last season behind only Seattle, giving up just 15.06 points per game. But Carolina’s defense has been a shambles, allowing 27.85 points per game this year, as evidenced anew in Sunday’s 38-17 loss at Green Bay in which the Packers led 38-3 heading into the fourth quarter. The Panthers appear to greatly miss defensive end Greg Hardy, who hasn’t played since week one after being deactivated while he awaits an appeal of an assault conviction. Opponents have been able to run at will on the Panthers, who are allowing 5.3 yards per carry, most in the NFL. And without Hardy to spearhead the pass rush, opponents have also been able to take advantage of a leaky Panthers’ secondary. Carolina has allowed 15 touchdown passes, tied for second-most in the NFL. The defense played reasonably well in the first two games of the season, each wins (20-14 at Tampa Bay and 24-7 against Detroit) but since then has allowed 37 or more points four times as the Panthers have won just once. The offense has some talent in Newton, Olsen, rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin and running back Jonathan Stewart, the former Lacey High star. But this was expected to be a team carried by its defense and that hasn’t happened.
BY THE NUMBERS
172-5 — The amount by which Carolina was outgained in the first quarter Sunday by Green Bay.
1 — Number of teams to score 30 or more points on Carolina last season.
4 — The number of teams to score 30 or more points on Carolina in the last five weeks.