With their backs against the wall the Seattle Seahawks head into a Week 6 showdown with the Carolina Panthers with their season on the line Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field. Seattle as a whole has a had a nice run of success recently against the Panthers after ending their season last year in the NFC Divisional Playoff Round by a score of 31-17.
For the Seahawks after blowing a 24-7 lead last week in Cincinnati you have to wonder if the effect of doing the same to a 10-point lead in Super Bowl XLIX against the Patriots has carried over into the 2015 season. In all three of Seattle's losses this season, Pete Carroll's team has had a lead of some sort in the final quarter. Thus, it’s going to be very critical for this team to keep the foot on the gas pedal and put teams away and not be ultra-conservative with its play-calling late in games.
Thanks to a 4-0 start Carolina comes into this battle with the Seahawks with plenty of confidence after being off last week. While, the schedule has not been difficult for the Panthers, they have taken care of business like they are supposed to. But, make no mistake the trip to the Pacific Northwest will be the most significant test of the season to date and with the Carolina offense still near the bottom of the league in passing look for the Seattle defense to force Cam Newton to try and beat them with his arm.
Carolina at Seattle
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seattle -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The Return of Marshawn Lynch
Lynch returns to the lineup after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. You can easily make the point that Lynch is the heart and soul of the Seahawks' offense. Thus, look for Lynch to be a point of emphasis early in order to get him and the offensive line into a rhythm with the running game. Lynch has only gained 128 yards on 38 carries for an average of 3.4 yards per carry so far in 2015. If Lynch has any further issues health-wise on Sunday Seattle will not hesitate to put in Thomas Rawls, who rushed for 169 yards on 23 carries last week against the Bengals, including a very explosive 69-yard touchdown run.
2. Jimmy Graham vs. Thomas Davis
These two guys simply don’t like each other and will renew a feud that goes back to Graham’s days as a division rival when he was with the New Orleans Saints. Davis was assessed a fine of $16,537 last season for a helmet-to-helmet hit against Graham in Week 9. Despite having most of the fine rescinded, Davis will be primed and ready to lock horns with Graham once again. It is going to be important for the Seahawks to get Graham involved in the offensive flow early and often to keep Davis and Carolina from getting in his head mentally.
3. Shaq Thompson returns to Seattle
Thompson, was the Panthers' first-round draft pick earlier this year and he played his college ball at the University of Washington just down the road from CenturyLink Field. With the athleticism that Thompson possesses it would not be a surprise at all if Carolina head coach Ron Rivera uses Thompson to be a spy on quarterback Russell Wilson in order to keep him in the pocket. The Seahawks are going to have to seriously consider utilizing more read-option plays to keep Thompson and the other Panther linebackers honest all day long.
This is a textbook case of one team in Seattle that is going to be more desperate than Carolina to get a win to get to .500 and save its season from being a disaster. The Panthers have more of a margin for error with the undefeated record and the Falcons losing on Thursday night in New Orleans. For the Seahawks, it’s absolutely paramount that they get off to a fast start in order to keep the 12s from turning on them. The other bonus of a fast start would be on defense, as coordinator Kris Richard could then just go after Cam Newton and make him very uncomfortable and cause turnovers. In the end Seattle is going to rise up like a two-time NFC champion would do at home and do just enough on offense to sneak past the Panthers and get to 3-3 on the season. If Seattle does not come through and get the job done, then the season for all intents and purposes will be over with 10 games still to play.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Panthers 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow him on Twitter @scottwhittum.