SEATTLE – You’d think they play in the same division, not clear across the country from each other.
The Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers will meet for the sixth time in four years Sunday when they play in the NFC Divisional playoff game.
The Panthers (15-1) has the presumptive league MVP in Cam Newton. But it seems most NFL media – even those outside Seattle – think the Seahawks will win Sunday. Seattle (11-6) has won seven of its last eight and has regained that swagger fans have seen since 2012.
Seattle is 4-1 against the Panthers since 2012, Seattle has won all three in Carolina and last year’s divisional playoff in Seattle. But the Panthers got revenge this year with a 27-23 victory in the final minute in Seattle.
All the games in Carolina during the recent stretch have been low-scoring grinders.
Oct. 7, 2012: Captain Munnerlyn’s 33-yard interception return put Carolina up 10-6 early in the 3rd quarter, but a Golden Tate touchdown catch and a Steven Hasuchka field goal helped Seattle to a 16-12 win.
Sept. 8, 2013: Steve Smith put Carolina up 7-3 late in the first half. Seattle added a Steven Hauschka field goal in the third quarter and took the lead for good on a 43-yard touchdown catch by Jermaine Kearse. Seattle held for the final 10:13 to win, 12-7.
Oct. 26, 2014: The Panthers got off to a 6-0 lead in the first half. Seattle would tie it midway through the third. The Panthers made it 9-6 late in the 4th, but a final drive by the Seahawks ended with a 23-yard game-winning touchdown from Russell Wilson to Luke Willson. Seattle won 13-9.
The last two games in Seattle have been higher scoring. The Seahawks didn’t ice last year’s playoff game until Kam Chancellor returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Seattle won 31-17.
This October, the Panthers finally broke through – a game in which NFL followers finally stood up, took notice, and saw Carolina as a legitimate Super Bowl threat. The Seahawks led by nine early in the 4th quarter but Seattle’s offense could not sustain drives and the defense could not stop drives. Cam Newton hit Greg Olsen for a 26-yard touchdown with 36 seconds left to secure the 27-23 win.Seattle leads the all-time series with the Panthers 7-3.
This will be the third time the two have met in the playoffs. The Seahawks also beat the Panthers 34-14 in the 2005 NFC Championship.
Big questions remain for both teams heading into Sunday.
For Seattle, will Marshawn Lynch play after his last-minute decision not to go to Minnesota last week and how ready is he for game action? Will the offense return to what it was down the stretch? Can the offensive line protect Russell Wilson after the Panthers sacked him four times earlier this season? Will running back Christine Michael continue his resurgence in his second stint with Seattle? Can the league’s top rushing defense force Newton to win with his arm?
For Carolina, will its soft regular season schedule catch up to the Panthers? Will receiver Ted Ginn Jr. continue the hot streak he’s been on of late or will he revert to the journeyman who drops easy passes? How does the loss of cornerback Charles Tillman to a torn ACL affect the secondary? How is the health of running backs Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker? Most importantly, can the Panthers find a way to contain Wilson – the only man who has rivaled Newton's improved play the second half of the season?
Although the Panthers boast the presumed MVP, Carolina fans should take note: The Seahawks have defeated the league’s MVP in the last two postseasons. It demolished Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLVIII and edged Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship last season.
Regardless of how it goes Sunday, the next revenge game won't be too far off. These two will play each other next season in Seattle.
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