A missed chip-shot field goal by one of the league's best kickers, Minnesota's Blair Walsh, fatefully initiated one of the newer NFL rivalries. Sunday, Seattle will visit #1 seed Carolina in the divisional playoff round, making the sixth meeting in four years between the two teams. The Seahawks may as well be division rivals. Perhaps even heavier than frequency, these matches always seem meaningful. 30% of the time, they're meeting in the playoffs, where the stakes are the highest.
The first three years of this developing rivalry were intense defensive battles in Charlotte, where all fell the Seahawks way by means of a DeAngelo Williams fumble here, or more known, one big play late there for the one touchdown to pull ahead for the win over the Panthers.
These defensive battles were grinders. The average final score over the last four years was 14-9. However, over the last two meetings, these numbers have jumped to a final score average of 29-20 favoring Seattle. But the Panthers took the most recent victory at Century Link field this season on a late touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen for a 27-23 victory. Now here we are again for the second straight year, both teams looking to advance to the NFC Championship for a chance to punch their ticket to Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50. So, let's look how these teams compare at the present time.
SCORING- 31.2 PPG (1ST) 26.4 (T-4TH)
TOTAL YPG- 366.9 (11TH) 378.6 (4TH)
PASSING- 223.4 (24TH) 236.9 (20TH)
RUSHING- 142.6 (2ND) 141.8 (3RD)
TOTAL DEF.-322.9 (6TH) 291.8 (2ND)
PASSING- 234.5 (10TH) 210.2 (2ND)
RUSHING- 88.4 (4TH) 81.5 (1ST)
A big key for the Panthers in this game will be getting pressure on Russell Wilson and containing him from getting outside and making plays. Carolina was pretty successful limiting the damage Wilson inflicted on these improvised players earlier this season. With some key injuries in Carolina's secondary, which is now held down by Robert McClain and Cortland Finnegan, it's critical that Carolina generates pressure to take some of the pressure off these veteran defensive backs. Charles Johnson and Jared Allen have struggled over the last 3-4 weeks of the season in getting to the quarterback. They'll need to find some success if Carolina wants to come out on top.
This game will heavily rely on the NFL's potential MVP in Cam Newton. He will have to protect the ball better than he has in past playoff games, where he has five touchdowns and five interceptions in three playoff games with one win. Against the Seattle's defense alone, he has four touchdowns and five interceptions (two INTs in the meeting earlier this season). He holds a 63% completion rating with an average of 190.4 yards per game against Seattle. But this season, Newton is playing a lot better than this previous Newton, and it will be interesting to see what he brings to the biggest game in Bank of America's history come Sunday. He's an MVP candidate for a reason, and we hope to see it on full display.
Jonathan Stewart and Ted Ginn are back after missing games due to injury. These will be welcomed additions back just in time. Ginn's speed is much needed threat and will open up the deep pass again for Cam. Jonathan Stewart's bruising running style could help grind the clock and win the time of possession battle. Fozzy Whitaker has been listed as OUT for this weeks game.
Seattle will be without Jimmy Graham this time. Graham was responsible for half of Seattle's passing yardage in the game earlier this season. He's always been a Carolina killer. Oddly, Seattle's success coincided with Graham's absence.
For the last few years, the Panthers have been the little brother of the Seahawks. Both built from the same DNA, but the Panthers just couldn't quite finish. Now little brother has grown up. This should be one of the best matches between the two yet. I think the Panthers finally have the maturity, talent, and experience to get the job done behind a great season from Cam Newton and this offense. Seattle is 2-3 against top ten offenses this season, the Panthers are responsible for one of those losses. Playing in Charlotte is an advantage that us fans need to use. GET LOUD and don't sell your tickets to other Seahawks fans, sell them to Panthers fans! Also, please don't stoop to Seattle fans level and pull the fire alarm in the hotel Seattle is staying at. Remember they lost when their fans did it to us.
PREDICTION- Panthers- 24 Seattle-17
By Tripp Morgan
Follow him on Twitter @TrippMorgan6