Let the buzz begin.
The Carolina Panthers, who beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-16 Saturday in record-setting fashion, must face the Seahawks on Saturday at CenturyLink Field. Although it’s early in the week, the national media and major newspapers are already weighing in.
Here’s what Bob Condotta wrote today for The Seattle Times about the matchup.
Here’s a roundup of some of the early national media buzz about the Seahawks-Panthers NFC Divisional playoff game on Saturday at 5:15 p.m. (FOX, Channel 13).
1. Is home-field advantage really that important? It’s going to be hard for any team to go into Seattle or Green Bay and pull out a victory. The top-seeded Seahawks have lost only two home games in the past two years. They have some of the loudest fans, and their defense responds to their energy. It helps pass-rushers get a half-step jump against opposing offensive linemen. Opponents average 2.2 false starts a game against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. The second-seeded Packers’ advantage is Aaron Rodgers. He hasn’t thrown an interception at Lambeau Field since 2012.
2. Which remaining NFC team made the boldest change down the stretch? Give Carolina coach Ron Rivera a lot of credit. After the Panthers struggled through a 3-8-1 start, Rivera decided to go young. He moved three rookies — fifth-round cornerback Bené Benwikere, fourth-round free safety Tre Boston and undrafted linebacker Adarius Glanton — into the starting lineup. That went along with using three second-year defensive linemen — Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei and Wes Horton — on early downs and in the nickel. The result has been a younger, more athletic defense. The Carolina defense that started Saturday night’s victory over Arizona was an average of 25.8 years old. That’s more than a year younger than the Seahawks’ starting defense (27.18). During the Panthers’ four-game winning streak to close the regular season, they had the NFL’s fifth-best defense, giving up 278.2 yards a game. …
9. What position matchup is the hardest to figure out? There are plenty of questions about the pass-catchers in the Carolina-Seattle game. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen and rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin each had 1,008 receiving yards, but there is a big drop-off after them. Jerricho Cotchery was next with 48 catches for 580 yards, and nobody else reached the 300-yard mark. The lack of depth at receiver contributed to Newton having a 58.5 completion percentage, the second lowest of his career.
The Seahawks didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver, yet Wilson completed 63.1 percent of his passes. Doug Baldwin has replaced Golden Tate as Seattle’s lead target. Baldwin caught 66 passes for 825 yards. The key to the present and the future is the development of rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood. Richardson has become more of a factor since the Seahawks traded away Percy Harvin. He finished with 29 catches for 271 yards. Norwood had only nine catches for 102 yards, but he may be more involved if Jermaine Kearse, second on the team with 38 catches for 537 yards, can’t play because of a hamstring injury.
10. Which teams will be in the NFC Championship Game? I stick by last week’s picks. It will be Green Bay at Seattle. The defending champion Seahawks should beat the Packers, like they did in the first game of the season, and return to the Super Bowl.
We all know the matchup the NFL wants to see,” said Terrell Suggs, a Tom Brady nemesis, on Saturday night after eliminating Pittsburgh. New England-Seattle, presumably. “We’ll see if we can disrupt some people’s plans.” …
… Seattle has allowed just three touchdowns and 39 points in the past six games. But these are not the midseason Panthers. In the past month, Carolina is 5-0, by an average of 16 points per win. Check out the Panthers’ running game the past five weeks, since they woke up from their 65-day winless streak. They’ve rushed for 271, 123, 209, 194 and 188 yards. Seattle’s stingy on the ground, though, allowing just 3.4 yards per rush. Cam Newton is going to have to come into play, with his legs and arm, for the Panthers to have a good shot Saturday evening in Seattle. ….
… Arizona’s 78-yard day was as bad an offensive performance as I’ve seen in the playoffs. So what to make now of Carolina, on a five-game winning streak? The Panthers have allowed just 59 points during the streak, and they’re running as well as they have all season, and Cam Newton continues to get more comfortable with his receivers. His odd miscommunication with wideout Jerricho Cotchery Saturday, resulting in an ugly interception, was uncharacteristic based on how Newton has played recently. This stretch for Carolina is a great example of how the most important thing this time of year is not your overall record, but how you’re playing in December and January, which should mean that we’re going to see a surprisingly good and competitive game Saturday night in Seattle. …
The Fine Fifteen (power rankings)
1. Seattle (12-4). Two wins for the Seahawks in the bye week: They don’t have to face Detroit in the divisional game Saturday; Carolina is playing pretty well, but the Lions would have been a tougher first foe. And the Jets won’t be hiring ace Seattle director of pro personnel Trent Kirchner as GM. Bad news for Kirchner, good news for Seattle, keeping a winning personnel team intact.
What it all set up: Some very lopsided matchups in the divisional round and the ever-increasing likelihood that the Super Bowl winner will emerge from one of the four favored teams.
In fact, I think it now points to a Seattle-New England Super Bowl pairing, and if that happens, I think Seattle will repeat as champion. …
The Panthers might hit the Seahawks in the mouth a time or two, but it’s hard to see how the Panthers score on Seattle’s defense.
This one feels almost like a half-bye for the Seahawks, who are 24-2 at CenturyLink Field over the last three seasons, including playoffs.
I think if you’re going to beat the Seahawks in any playoff season, you have to beat them early.
You give Seattle a head start, home games, and some January momentum, and the Seahawks are almost impossible to knock down.
Jake Delhomme quarterbacked the Panthers in the 2005 NFC championship game at Seattle, which the Seahawks won by 20 points in a rout that was also the only playoff meeting between these teams. Seattle is widely considered to have the best homefield advantage in the NFL, and Delhomme would agree with that.
“It is a jungle,” Delhomme said. “To go play in that? Whew. I mean, just to be able to call a play….” he paused then, at a rare loss for words. “To explain to people how loud it is on the field? You just can’t.”
Echoed Panther coach Ron Rivera: “It is one of the toughest places in the NFL to play. You are playing a great team in front of a loud crowd.”
Expect to hear a lot this week about the struggles of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton against the Seahawks’ so-called “Legion of Boom” secondary.
Newton has completed 54 percent of his passes against Seattle for an average of 146 yards, with a total of one touchdown and one interception. The interception came this season and was costly – an ill-advised, backhanded flip for tight end Greg Olsen after Brenton Bersin had returned the second-half kickoff 49 yards.
Newton also lost a fumble in the red zone on a bad zone-read exchange with running back Jonathan Stewart in the first half.
Before a 114-yard passing performance in the division-clinching win at Atlanta this season, Newton’s two lowest-yardage games were against Seattle in 2012 (141 yards) and 2013 (125).
The Week 8 defeat to Seattle this season was part of a six-game losing streak in October and November that threatened to doom the Panthers’ postseason chances. But the Panthers turned things around with a 4-0 December and joined the 2010 Seahawks as the only division winners in NFL history to finish with a losing record.
Since the NFL expanded its playoff slate to include non-division winners, there have been 10 wild-card teams in the Super Bowl. There have been a handful of other teams (the 2011 New York Giants come to mind instantly) that have gotten hot late, won their division, and burned a path to the big game from wild-card weekend.
That’s the situation these Panthers are in right now.
The 2011 Giants won three of their final four regular-season games, and then won the next four to take the Super Bowl. The 2010 Packers won their last two regular-season games and then traveled that same four-game path as the Giants to win a title.
The 2014 Panthers have now won five straight. They’re on a hotter streak than either of those two Super Bowl champions. And there is only one team on a better winning streak than Carolina at this moment.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, it’s the Seahawks, who have won six games in a row.
Panthers at Seahawks (-11.5) — 8:15 p.m. ET, Saturday, FOX): Incredibly high line for a divisional game. It’s impossible not to like the Panthers … right? Maybe not. It wouldn’t be shocking if people were interested in piling onto the Hawks here with 1) the game being in Seattle, 2) Seattle being really good and 3) Carolina still not above .500 even after a playoff win.
Also the Panthers repeatedly tried to shoot themselves in the foot on Saturday afternoon, except Ryan Lindley stole all the bullets. If Cam Newton can play an error-free game, Carolina can win this matchup. No, really. They matchup well against the Seahawks and can contain Russell Wilson and limit Marshawn Lynch. It won’t be a high-scoring affair and could get away from the Panthers late, but they can hang. Love the double digit line (it was down to -10.5 by late Sunday night) and will almost certainly regret doing so by the time the second quarter rolls around.
The Panthers have been effective at keeping Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch under control, holding him to an average of 63.3 yards in three games. He had only 62 yards on 14 carries when the teams met in October, and Carolina’s run defense has become much more efficient since. The Panthers have held their past five opponents to 87.4 yards rushing a game after allowing 131.8 yards in their first nine games. This is the formula they used a year ago, when they were second in the league in total defense. Seattle, with basically the same formula, was ranked first. Make the opponent one-dimensional, then bring pressure on the quarterback and force him to beat you. The past five opponents haven’t been able to do that. It begins Saturday with stopping Lynch, who is fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,306 yards and 13 touchdowns.
They were diplomatic, for the most part, in the Carolina Panthers‘ locker room on Saturday night when asked whether they’d like to face the Green Bay Packers or the Seattle Seahawks in their next game.
“It’s going to be a challenge, no matter who we play,” they said.
“They’re both great teams.”
However, in being around the Panthers for a couple of days last week, in speaking to them and even in reading between the lines of their quotes a bit, one got the sense they’d really like to get a crack at the defending champs, especially after playing them so tightly in both this regular season and last.
If so, they got their wish. The Dallas Cowboys‘ victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday locked Carolina into a trip to Seattle for a divisional-round matchup on Saturday night (8:15 p.m. ET on FOX). These teams will meet for the first time since Russell Wilson’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Luke Willson with 47 seconds remaining gave the Seahawks a much-needed 13-9 victory in Week 8 — the start of their 9-1 run to close the season.
For Wilson, that future has already arrived. Last year behind a scathing rushing attack and a defense that could stop anything, Wilson lifted the Lombardi Trophy.
A year later, the Seahawks are once again the No. 1 seed, and once again, they have the best defense in the NFL. Also, that means any team looking to reach the Super Bowl has to find a way to win in a stadium that has been known to start earthquakes.
The Carolina Panthers are the next squad pegged with that challenging assignment.
Just in case the constant media coverage didn’t sear this information into your brain: The Panthers didn’t have a winning record, and they still made it to the playoffs. At 7-8-1, they conquered the frail NFC South.
Guess who was the last team to make the playoffs with a losing record? If you guessed the Seahawks, you are correct.
It was the 7-9 Seahawks who won the NFC West during the 2010-11 season—my, oh my, how times have changed.
That was also the same “losing” team that beat the New Orleans Saints in Seattle. Like the Seahawks, the Panthers won their first playoff game, destroying the Arizona Cardinals and their third-string QB Ryan Lindley, 27-16.
We know that the Seahawks can’t take the Panthers lightly. Led by a mobile quarterback and a defense that has held opposing teams to fewer than 20 points five games in a row, Carolina is playing excellent football right now.
Expect to see a ton of Jonathan Stewart on the Panthers side and Marshawn Lynch for the Seahawks. Since November 27, Stewart has run for 609 yards and has reclaimed his spot as the bell cow of the Carolina backfield.
Lynch has been a beast in his own right since November 27, rushing for 394 yards and four touchdowns. It should be noted that Stewart has played one more game in that time span.
Get ready for a gritty, brutal game between two quality teams—a game that could be decided by the play of their young QBs.
As would be expected, the 8-8-1 Panthers are underdogs at top-seeded Seattle next Saturday.
And as it turns out, they are the biggest underdogs in the divisional round.
Several Nevada sports books list the Seahawks as 11- or 11.5-point favorites over the Panthers, according to Pregame.com, which tracks lines in the state.
According to the Spreadapedia database, postseason underdogs of 10 points or more are 12-44 since 1978. The last postseason double-digit underdogs to win were the 2010 Seahawks, who upset defending-champion New Orleans (+10) in Round One.
The Panthers will face the Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoffs. Carolina lost to Seattle in each of the past three seasons by a total of 13 points, including a 13-9 defeat on Oct. 26 in Charlotte. All three of those losses were in Charlotte.
Coach Ron Rivera called Seattle “one of the toughest places in the NFL to play” in a statement released through the team on Sunday night.
“You are playing a great team in front of a loud crowd,” Rivera said. ” … Playing on the road late in the season at New Orleans and Atlanta should help us because they were basically playoff games for us. We’ll just have to deal with it. They are a good team wherever you play them.”
The Seahawks remain the favorites to win their second consecutive NFL championship, offered at 9-to-5 odds at both bet shops. Seattle is laying the largest point spread of next weekend’s divisional round, so – on paper at least – has the easiest path to the conference championships. The Seahawks’ odds were shaved at the Westgate from the 9-to-4 price posted on them a week ago when the playoff field was set.
The Seahawks are followed by the Patriots, Packers and Broncos on the futures odds boards.
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