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January 4, 2015 at 9:06 PM

Seattle Seahawks First Look: Carolina Panthers

Here’s our First Look at Seattle’s opponent in Saturday’s divisional playoff game, the Carolina Panthers:

CAROLINA PANTHERS

2014 record: 7-8-1, first in NFC South.

Last game: Beat Arizona 27-16 in wild card playoff game Saturday.

Series record: The teams have played seven times in the regular season and once in the playoffs, with the Seahawks holding a 6-2 edge overall. Seattle beat Carolina 34-14 in the 2006 NFC championship game at CenturyLink Field and has also won all four games it has played against the Panthers since Pete Carroll became coach in 2010. That includes wins each of the last three seasons in Charlotte, capped by a 13-9 win there on Oct 26.

Early line: Seahawks by 11.

Key players: QB Cam Newton: Newton became just the second Heisman Trophy winner since 1987 to win a playoff game Saturday when he led the Panthers past Arizona (Tim Tebow with Denver in 2012 is the other). Newton shrugged off two fractures suffered in his lower back in a car accident last month to throw two touchdown passes in the third quarter while also running seven times for 35 yards. He is 0-3 against the Seahawks, however, completing 40-74 passes for 437 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

RB Jonathan Stewart: Stewart, a graduate of Timberline High in Lacey, battled injuries earlier in the season but has been at his best of late, rushing for 401 yards on 79 carries in the month of December — second-most in the NFL behind Dallas’ DeMarco Murray—- twice topping the 100-yard mark, and then adding 123 yards on 24 carries against the Cardinals Saturday. He had 79 yards on 16 carries against Seattle in October.

TE Greg Olsen: The eight-year veteran was named to his first Pro Bowl after setting career highs with 84 catches for 1,008 yards — each second in the NFL behind all tight ends other than New England’s Rob Gronkowski.

LB Luke Kuechly: The third-year linebacker was chosen to the Associated Press All-Pro Team for the second straight year, getting 43 of a possible 50 votes to lead all inside linebackers (Seattle’s Bobby Wagner was second with 31). Kuechly was one of six players named All-Pro each of the last two years, a list that also includes Seattle’s Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman.

Carolina’s keys to the success: The Panthers are a vastly different-looking team than when they faced the Seahawks in October, especially on defense and particularly in the secondary where they are now starting two rookies — cornerback Bene Benwikere and free safety Tre Boston. After allowing 250 or more yards passing in seven of the first 11 games, the Panthers held each of their last five opponents to 225 or less — three to 144 or fewer — and then held Arizona to 51 in Saturday’s playoff win. The Panthers haven’t allowed more than 17 points to any of their last five opponents, including the playoff game. At the same time, the Panthers got their running attack going again consistently, aided by a now-healthy Jonathan Stewart, averaging 195 yards rushing in their last five regular season games and then going for 188 more against the Cardinals. Carolina hadn’t rushed for more than 147 in any of first 11 games. The resurgence on defense and the running game each began after Carolina had a bye in the 12th week of the season.

BY THE NUMBERS

1 — Players left on the Carolina roster from the 2006 NFC title game against Seattle, linebacker Thomas Davis.

111-43 – Carolina’s combined points for and against in its season-ending four-game winning streak that included victories at Atlanta and New Orleans and home against Cleveland and Tampa Bay.

331-228 — What Carolina was outscored by in its first 12 games when it went 3-8-1.

 

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