Kickoff is less than an hour away, but oddsmakers and media agree: The Seahawks will play in the NFC Championship game.
Almost every prediction I found Saturday afternoon predicts the Seahawks will beat the Carolina Panthers (5:15 p.m. on Fox, Channel 13) in the NFC Divisional playoff game at CenturyLink Field. Nothing new there. The Seahawks, who are 10.5-point favorites, have been favored for more than a month as they rolled into the playoffs and to the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
Most are anticipating a surprisingly wide margin of victory for Seattle, which has struggled but edged Carolina in the past three meetings. Many cite the huge home-field advantage in Seattle, the Seahawks’ defensive roll and their playoff experience.
But there are a few dissenters who predict a very close game and at least three experts picking Carolina to upset Seattle.
Here’s a roundup of picks and predictions from the national media.
Four four pick Seahawks.
Jerry Brewer: Seahawks 17, Panthers 6 – It will be the typical nose-bloodying Hawks – Panthers fistfight, only without the late-game stress this time.
Bob Condotta: Seahawks 21, Panthers 9 – This game could be a defensive struggle for much of the day. But as the Seahawks have throughout their winning streak, expect them to make some big plays down the stretch to pull away.
Jayson Jenks: Seahawks 24, Panthers 10 – The Seahawks are playing too well defensively, and the Panthers don’t have enough weapons to make this anything more than a tune up for the rest of the playoffs.
Larry Stone: Seahawks 19, Panthers 14 – The familiar pattern of Seattle-Carolina games will hold true: A tough defensive battle in which the Seahawks do just enough to pull out the victory. Seahawks fans won’t be able to rest easily until the clock hits 0:00.
14 of 15 pick the Seahawks.
Terry Blount: Seahawks 20, Panthers 10 – In three meetings over the past three seasons, the Panthers’ offense has scored only one touchdown against the Seattle defense, and all three of those games were in Charlotte. How in the world do they hope to come into deafening CenturyLink Field and expect to change that against a defense that is on a historic roll? The Seahawks have allowed only 39 points in their past six games.
David Newton: Panthers 16, Seahawks 14 – The numbers say Seattle should win, simply based on playing at home. The Seahawks have won seven consecutive home playoff games and are an NFL-best 24-2 at home since 2012. But I’m picking the Panthers. They have bucked history already by winning the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record. They are coming off a history-making effort in Saturday’s NFC wild-card game, holding Arizona to a playoff record 78 yards. They have won five consecutive games, outscoring opponents by a combined 138-59. Finally, any team that can survive its star quarterback breaking bones in his back in a December car wreck and its head coach being left homeless by a house fire seems destined.
Greg Easterbrook: Seattle enters the divisional round on a 24-2 home stretch, while at 8-8-1, visiting Carolina is not even a winning team. If the Seahawks don’t prevail, it will be the biggest upset since Appalachian State over Michigan.
Reader Michael Armstrong of Bellevue, Washington, notes this amazing stat: in the last 61 games (three and a half seasons), the Hawks have 29 double-digit victories compared to zero double-digit losses. The last time Seattle was beaten by 10 points or more was November 2011.
All seven pick the Seahawks.
Five of five pick the Seahawks
Elliot Harrison: Seahawks 20, Panthers 10 – I like the Panthers to make this a heckuva game. Shoot, it might be 7-3 for the majority of three quarters. Ultimately, give Seattle’s home crowd the nod — the 12’s truly give their team a leg up. Russell Wilson‘s legs would scare me if I were a Panthers fan. Carolina’s front seven has to be disciplined about not losing contain when rushing the quarterback, or else someone has to spy Wilson. To be clear, the Panthers‘ defensive front has a clear advantage over the Seahawks‘ offensive line — although that edge was reduced with the news that Star Lotulelei is out. Still, it won’t be an easy day for Marshawn Lynch and company. The Panthers haven’t allowed more than 17 points in a game since November. That said, Seattle boasts the No. 1 defense in the league, and the “Legion of Boom” won’t be the least bit threatened by the Panthers‘ aerial attack. Cam Newton will have to run wild at some point for Carolina to take home the “W.”
Two of two pick the Seahawks
John Breech: Seahawks 24, Panthers 10 – The last three times the Panthers have played the Seahawks, Carolina has scored 12, 7 and 9 points and gone 0-3, which makes me want to write the Panthers off and move on to my next pick.
However, I’m not going to do that because although the Panthers are 0-3, they’re only a few plays away from being 3-0. In the three games, Carolina has lost 16-12, 12-7 and 13-9.
In the most recent game between these two teams, Carolina almost came out on top. Back in October, the Seahawks needed a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson with 47 seconds left to beat the Panthers 13-9.
I’m not sure why I brought that game up though because that’s not the same Seahawks team the Panthers will see on Saturday.
Going into the October game, the Seahawks were 3-3, on a two game losing streak, had just traded Percy Harvin and had to travel cross-country to Charlotte for a 10 a.m. PT kickoff. Everything was stacked against the Seahawks and they still won.
That’s not the case anymore though. Now the Seahawks are on a mission and they’re going to destroy anyone who gets in their way. And when I say destroy, consider that the Seahawks have won their past six games by a combined score of 134-39.
Carolina has never been able to move the ball on Seattle’s defense and I don’t see that changing in this game. I’ll be shocked if the Panthers score over 14 points. What won’t shock me though is a Seahawks blowout.
Pete Prisco: Seahawks 17, Panthers 14 – This is a rematch of the Week 8 meeting won by the Seahawks 13-9 in Carolina. Seattle has beaten the Panthers three times in the past three years by a total of 13 points. This Carolina offense is much better now than the one that took the field in Week 8. The line was a mess then, and it’s now a group that has started the past six games together. That matters. But this is a huge challenge for a relatively young line with that Seattle crowd noise. It will be interesting to see how many false starts we have for Carolina. The Seahawks were without middle linebacker Bobby Wagner in the first game, but he’s back. That’s huge. He is key to what they do on defense. The Carolina defense has really improved over the past month as well. They finished 21st in scoring defense for the season, but in the past month they have been much better. The pass rush has come alive. They face a tough challenge in the Seattle running game. If they can slow that, and keep Russell Wilson in the pocket, they will have a chance. That’s tough to do. Wilson is electrifying at times when he gets outside the pocket. The ends have to be aware of their rush lanes. Cam Newton doesn’t have a bevy of weapons, but Kelvin Benjamin is a big target and Greg Olsen can create problems in the middle of the field. I would look for the Panthers to attack a lot inside with Olsen. And, of course, try and run it. Like Wilson, Cam Newton can be dangerous on the move. In the end, I think Seattle will pull this out to get to the title game. Like the last three between these teams, it won’t be easy.
One picks the Seahawks
Vinnie Iyer: Seahawks 26, Panthers 13 – The Seahawks are pretty solid 11-point favorites. That’s despite the fact Seattle won by scores of 12-7 and 13-9 in two games at Carolina over the past two seasons. The Panthers’ only chance is to make this one just as ugly, which is possible, given the way their defense has been playing.
But that defense will get a huge wake-up call after playing the dormant Cardinals with no quarterback or running game. The Seahawks with Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch are a different challenge all together. The degree of difficulty is raised as the Panthers will be without a key player, tackle Star Lotulelei. The prospects aren’t good for Cam Newton to move the ball well, given his offensive line will have trouble with Seattle’s pass rush and his receivers have little chance against the secondary. Wilson will have a better chance to improvise and make the bigger plays with his arm and feet. That line isn’t too big at all for the reigning champs.
Fourteen of 16 pick the Seahawks
Brad Gagnon: I admit this is a gut pick, but the Carolina defense has been so good and the Panthers have played the Seahawks extremely close in their two meetings the last two years. Those two one-score losses were at home and this is on the road, where Seattle is a powerhouse, but something tells me the Seahawks will get caught overlooking a team with a losing record here. Carolina is physical enough to hold Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch in check, and there’s a reason why it’s been a decade since anyone has successfully defended their title.
Sean Tomlinson: The Seahawks were without two key defenders when these two teams last met in Week 8 (middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and cornerback Byron Maxwell). And they’re now at CenturyLink Field, a place where playoff hopes and dreams generally go to die. Cam Newton struggled with poor mechanics against the Cardinals on his way to a 56.3 completion percentage. That’s not about to get better against a Seahawks defense that’s allowed only 39 points over the past six games.
All six pick the Seahawks.
Katie Sharp: The other Saturday game sets up as the most lopsided on paper with the Seattle Seahawks hosting the Panthers. The defending Super Bowl champs won five more games in the regular season than the Panthers and boast arguably the best home field advantage in the NFL, but this game could be a lot closer than the oddsmakers predict. These are two of the hottest teams in the league — Seattle won its final six games of the regular season and Carolina is riding a five-game win streak — and both are playing defense at an elite level down the stretch.
One picks the Seahawks.
Greg Cote – Seahawks 21, Panthers 13 – It’s the least interesting of the four Divisional games if only because the favorite winning seems least in doubt. But make no mistake: That isn’t because Carolina plays the playoff interloper at .500 or because Seattle is reigning Super Bowl champion. That’s because Seattle is pretty awesome – especially at home. I don’t disrespect the Panthers, who got here by winning five games in a row and whose defense has allowed only 11.8 points on average in those five. Carolina can run the ball, too, and when somewhat-erratic Cam Newton is on, he’s good. The difference is, while the Cats’ defense is good, the Seahawks’ D is great – the first since the 1969-71 Vikings to lead the NFL in fewest points allowed three straight years. Seattle has won six straight while giving up 39 total points, a feat last done by the ’76 Steelers. Having said all that, the double-digit point spread maligns Carolina. Recall that, in late October, Seattle needed a last-minute TD pass to edge the Cats, 13-9. And if you believe in motivational intangibles of the chip-on-shoulder variety, Carolina comes with a lot of that right now.
One picks the Seahawks.
John Boell: Seahawks 26, Panthers 9 – On paper, this one might look like a yawner. My interest is that the last time a .500 or lower divisional champ won in the wild-card round — before the Panthers did it last week — was the Seahawks in January 2011. The Seahawks topped the Saints in the “Beast Quake” game when Marshawn Lynch’s 67-yard TD run caused a small tremor at Seattle’s Qwest Field. The Panthers could keep things close for a while with their gritty defense, guided by Luke Kuechly (NFL-best 473 tackles since 2012). But the Seahawks’ “D” is too strong, and Lynch and Russell Wilson will do enough for the defending champs, who are 24-2 at home (including playoffs) the past three seasons. Seattle has won seven straight playoff games in the Emerald City. Make it eight. Seattle, 26-9.
One picks the Seahawks.
Michael Hurley: Let’s be honest here, folks. Need we really get into this one?
The only — and I do mean only – force the Panthers potentially have working in their favor is something along the lines of “Well, it’s the NFL and crazy things can happen.” That’s it.
By any measure — statistics, records, common sense — the Seattle Seahawks are an immensely better football team than the Carolina Panthers.
Russell Wilson threw for more touchdowns and fewer interceptions than Cam Newton. Wilson also rushed for 300 more yards and one more touchdown than Newton.
The Seahawks have Marshawn Lynch; the Panthers don’t.
The Seahawks outscored opponents by 140 points this season, and they’ve outscored opponents 203-123 at home (that’s 11 points better than the opponent per week). The Panthers were outscored by 35 points this season, and they allowed 31 points or more in five of their eight road games.
Oh, and this: The Seahawks won most of their games this year. The Panthers did not win even half of theirs.
Bye week … crazy crowd … bad opponent. There’s really no reason the Seahawks should win by anything lower than 20 points.
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