It's no secret that the Seahawks have been Carolina's Achilles heel over the last few seasons. They just seem to be the one team we can't get over the hump with. The Panthers have led at the start of the fourth quarter in the last three out of four games, but one key mistake or turnover in the final minutes that has cost Carolina the game in all four. This will be a telling game for the undefeated Carolina Panthers as they enter the pivotal four game stretch coming out of a bye week. Make no mistake, this is a statement game that can give this team a big confidence boost as they return home for a 3 game home-stand. If Carolina finds a way to win in Seattle, they will be 5-0 for the first time since 2003. It would also be Rivera, Cam, and company's first post bye week victory.
The Seahawks sit at 2-3 on the season, that's not a reflection on how good this team still is. Their defense it still one of the best in the league, ranked fifth , 306.8 yards per game. The Seahawks will be without their key linebacker Bobby Wagner who is out indefinitely with a pectoral injury. It's a key injury for Seattle's run defense which is allowing 92.6 yards per game for seventh in the NFL.
Sean McDermott and the Panthers' defense has done well to only allow an average of 339 yards per game for 10th in the NFL while battling multiple key injuries and what had been a lack of pass rush up until week four against the Buccaneers where newcomer Ryan Delaire exploded for two sacks and nearly had a third. The Panthers own the sixth spot in rushing, just ahead of Seattle, allowing 92 yards per game and will have the best linebacker in the league back for the first time since week one in Luke Kuechly.
The Seahawks "Legion of Boom" is still playing well, however, allowing 214.2 yards per game through the air ranking them seventh in the league. They just got back arguably the best safety in the game in Kam Chancellor. With Chancellor back in the lineup, they didn't allow a touchdown for 18 consecutive quarters until the hot Bengals offense and tight end Tyler Eifert exposed Chancellor down the seam routes, drawing Chancellor in with underneath crossing routes.
With Josh Norman playing like the defensive player of the year, the Panthers secondary has allowed only 247 yards per game through the air, ranking Carolina 16th in the NFL. The middle of the pack numbers don't jump off the page, but given the lack of pass rush the secondary has performed well even though they have had to cover longer. Perhaps most notable, Carolina doesn't give up the big play often. Offenses work underneath, but Carolina doesn't give up the long ball. Neither the big play or the low hanging fruit underneath has been available on Josh Norman's side of the field. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks have a QBR of 23.1 when throwing at Josh Norman. Norman has accounted for four interceptions (tied for most in NFL with Charles Woodson), two of which he has returned for touchdowns, a forced fumble, and 16 tackles to go with it. He is easily a top candidate for defensive player of the year. Bigger yet for the Panthers and Norman, he's in a contract year.
In four games against the Panthers, Russell Wilson has averaged 252 yards passing with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He's rushed for 76 yards on 24 attempts, averaging 3.3 yards per attempt. The Panthers have done a pretty good job of containing Wilson and will certainly need to do that again Sunday. The Panthers could find more success getting after Wilson given Seattle's poor offensive line play. Wilson has been sacked a league high 22 times this season, exposing a shaky offensive line that sorely misses Max Unger who was dealt to New Orleans for tight end Jimmy Graham. Neither Seattle's offensive line nor the ginger tight end has done much this season. The Seahawks passing attack is ranked 26th in the NFL averaging 213.6 yards per game, which sadly outranks the Panthers 189.8, 29th ranked passing attack.
Marshawn Lynch returns this week as well. The Panthers have had great success against Lynch, perhaps even enough to call it "Feast Mode." Dating back to his first game against the Panthers, Lynch has rushed 104 times for 372 yards, averaging a modest 3.57 yards average per attempt. His most productive rushing performance against the Panthers was in 2012, where he gained only 85 yds. He hasn't done any better catching out of the back field either. In his five five games against Carolina, Lynch has nine catches for 50 yards, averaging 5.55 yards per reception. His highest total in a game has only been 17 yards in 2010. I would expect this success to continue this week, especially with Luke Kuechly's return. However, the Seahawks are ranked number one in the league rushing, averaging 142.2 yards per game. A lot of help came from back up running back Thomas Rawls, who has filled in admirably while Lynch has battled a hamstring injury. The Panthers offense isn't far behind though, ranking fourth with 132.2 yards per game average. Most of this production has come from Cam, but Jonathan Stewart found improved success in the Panthers last outing.
This game will be a defensive match up plain and simple. It always has between these two, but this time the Panthers have a real opportunity to get over the Seattle hump. The defense will have to force some key turnovers, keep pressure on Wilson, and get big stops when needed. If the offense can dominate time of possession and take care of the ball we will have a great shot at bringing home a W and advancing to 5-0. This may sound like a broken record but that's just the type of game it is and probably my favorite match up to watch over the past few years.
My Prediction: 20-13 Panthers
By Tripp Morgan