Plenty of drama will await football fans nationwide on Sunday night as the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks get together at CenturyLink Field. The last time these two teams met was in the NFC Divisional Playoff Round in January in Charlotte as the Panthers held on to win to 31-24 after sprinting out to a 31-0 lead at halftime.
For Seattle this game is very critical if the Seahawks wants to maintain their position as the No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoff chase. Pete Carroll’s team also would like to erase the taste of last week’s horrendous offensive display from last week’s 14-5 loss to Tampa Bay. The offensive line was a nonstop turnstile allowing six sacks as quarterback Russell Wilson was under duress all afternoon long.
For Carolina, it’s pretty much do or die, as the defending NFC champions need to win out to have any hopes of even getting back to the playoffs. The Panthers are three games behind NFC South-leading Atlanta following last week’s 35-32 loss in Oakland. Carolina rallied from a 24-7 deficit, but made too many mistakes to finish off the comeback, a common theme this season. Cam Newton threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns, but he also was the victim of a pick-six, courtesy of the Raiders’ Khalil Mack. The Panthers’ defense continued to have issues in stopping the pass, as Derek Carr finished with 315 yards and two scores despite playing a good part of the game with an injured right pinky.
Carolina at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 4 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Seahawks -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks’ offensive line vs. Carolina defense
Justin Britt’s return this week is going to be very important to the success of the Seattle offensive line, a group that needs to prove that last Sunday’s performance in Tampa Bay was an aberration. The Panthers still do an excellent job of getting to the quarterback (31 sacks) and are second in the NFL in rushing defense (79.5 ypg). Thus, communication is going to be very important at the line of scrimmage for the Seahawks’ offensive line in order to avoid negative plays that will allow the Carolina defense to tee off on Russell Wilson.
2. Carolina’s offensive balance vs. Seahawks’ defense
In order for the Panthers to leave CenturyLink Field with a victory, they need to be able to put together a balanced attack on offense. Jonathan Stewart ran for 96 yards on 17 carries and had two touchdowns to lead the ground attack last Sunday in Oakland. It will be a huge plus if Carolina can control the clock well enough to get Stewart around 25 carries. In addition, Cam Newton needs to be more accurate, as completing fewer than half your pass attempts will not cut it against a healthier Seattle secondary, as the Legion of Boom should get both Earl Thomas and DeShawn Shead back after missing last week’s game.
3. Seahawks’ mindset and ability to start fast
After a rough trip to Tampa Bay last Sunday where Seattle fell behind 14-0 very quickly against the Buccaneers it will be intriguing to see how Pete Carroll’s team responds back at home. With the 12s always at full throat and the national spotlight focused on CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks won’t have any excuses to not be ready or motivated for this game. However, Seattle still needs to get off to a fast start, and that’s especially the case on offense. In particular, coordinator Darrell Bevell needs to find ways for Russell Wilson to exploit Carolina’s inexperienced cornerbacks. Don’t be surprised to see Wilson air it out early, looking to connect with Doug Baldwin or Jimmy Graham or Tyler Lockett for a big play.
These two teams are going to battle each other down to the wire on Sunday night as both have way too much pride to let the other one blow them out. Turnovers are going to be a critical factor as the Seahawks are plus-5 on the season in turnover differential, while the Panthers enter at minus-8. If Seattle wins the turnover battle, Pete Carroll’s team should be able to put last week’s debacle in Tampa Bay behind and head into next week’s trip to Green Bay with some much-needed momentum. Now, if the Seahawks get careless with the ball and cannot protect Russell Wilson then all bets are off and Carolina will be in a great position to pull off the upset and kept its fading playoff hopes alive. In the end, look for another classic late drive from Wilson to put this one away.
Prediction: Seahawks 24, Panthers 21
— 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 Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.