It's the final road trip of the regular season for the Seattle Seahawks when they take on the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on Sunday. The Seahawks (10-3) are looking for their seventh road win this season, which would be a franchise record, while the Panthers (5-8) have lost five in a row, fired their head coach, and have basically already turned the page on this season. The atmosphere at Bank of America Stadium will be an interesting one, as it could feel almost like a neutral-site game for the Seahawks if Carolina fans stay away in droves.
The reality of how hard it is to go through an NFL regular season undefeated on the road reared its head for the Seahawks on Sunday night when the lost 28-12 to the Rams. It was a perfect storm of everything going wrong for Seattle; running back Rashaad Penny suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter, and things snowballed from there. Safety Quandre Diggs was a bright spot, as he had a 55-yard interception return in the third quarter for the team's lone touchdown and then picked off another pass on the next possession. The lack of offensive production was alarming since it was the first time Russell Wilson and Co. didn't score a touchdown since a 2017 season-opening loss at Green Bay.
Carolina had a rough afternoon of its own at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta last Sunday with a 40-20 blowout loss to the Falcons. Kyle Allen threw four interceptions and was under siege all day and wound up getting sacked five times. Carolina's defense couldn't stop Atlanta from moving the ball, as Devonta Freeman averaged 4.9 yards per carry before taking a seat and Matt Ryan threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns, including a 93-yarder to rookie Olamide Zaccheaus. Christian McCaffrey was a bright spot for the Panthers with 145 all-purpose yards. He'll need to carry the offense again this week.
Sunday represents a chance for Seattle to secure a playoff spot. If the Seahawks win at Carolina, they can get in depending on what happens with the Rams (at Dallas), Vikings (at Chargers), and Packers (vs. Bears). But clinching scenarios won't matter unless they put last week's disappointing showing behind them and take care of business against a team that has nothing left to play for at this point.
Seattle at Carolina
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' passing game vs. Panthers' defense
This is going to be a crucial matchup, as it sets up well for Russell Wilson to put up pretty big numbers against the Panthers. His offensive line was pushed around last week against Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams' defensive front. So this will be a test for this group to bounce back from a rough night in Los Angeles. They will be tested by another stout defensive front as Carolina's 47 sacks on the season trail the first-place Steelers by just one. Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin have combined for 15 of them, so expect those guys to come after Wilson, along with linebacker Shaq Thompson, who just earned a massive payday.
Wilson's top target, Tyler Lockett, ideally will make strides in his return from a shin injury. He has been quiet the last few weeks with just 107 yards on eight receptions and 15 targets total over the last four games. Meanwhile, fellow wideout DK Metcalf should continue to get his targets downfield on Sunday in an attempt to stretch the Panthers' defense, and Josh Gordon will need to be more of a factor as well to replace Rashaad Penny's production. Carolina ranks 15th against the pass and has collected 12 interceptions, but this unit surrendered some big plays to the Falcons last week. Expect Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to go after cornerback Donte Jackson early and often, along with the rest of the secondary, to see what they are made of.
2. Feed Christian McCaffrey
One of the best ways to slow down the Seahawks is to have an effective running back who can move the chains by running or catching passes out of the backfield. McCaffrey certainly fits that bill, as he is third in the league in rushing (1,220 yards) and fourth in receptions (86). He's No. 1 in yards from scrimmage (1,946) and total touchdowns (16). Carolina will force-feed him the ball, so the key for Seattle's defense is to keep track of where he is at all times and try and limit the explosive plays. Look for Panthers offensive coordinator Scott Turner to move McCaffrey all around the formation to keep the Seahawks defenders on their heels and try to get the ball to the dynamic running back in space so he can make something happen. McCaffrey's effectiveness will take pressure off of quarterback Kyle Allen, who has struggled over the past several games now that teams have more film on him.
3. Attack Kyle Allen
Speaking of Allen, one way Seattle's defense can shake off last week's performance is to dominate the line of scrimmage and get after the young quarterback. Pass protection has been an issue for Carolina, who has surrendered 50 sacks in 13 games, one behind the 32nd-ranked Dolphins. Provided they are healthy and good to go, Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah will have an opportunity to set the tone with consistent pressure all afternoon long. Ansah was inactive last week, and the Seahawks paid the price, as Jared Goff threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns (albeit with two interceptions) and wasn't sacked all game.
Allen has been sacked two or more times in all 11 of his starts and has gone down 21 times in the last four games alone. As a result, he has thrown seven interceptions over that same four-game stretch. Any turnovers Seattle can create could give help jumpstart the offense by giving it a shorter field to work with. When the Seahawks' defense has clicked at a high level this season, the recipe has been this: control the line scrimmage, generate pressure, and dominate the turnover battle.
Look for the Seahawks to get back on track this week, as they have too much at stake playoff-wise to not come out refocused. The ability to get off to a quick start will be crucial. If Seattle can get ahead by two scores early, it will probably take the crowd out of the game — if that even is a factor in the first place, considering Carolina's circumstances. Russell Wilson should be able to put up decent numbers against a Panthers defense that's been trending in the wrong direction. The Seahawks will up their 11th win of the season, which also would give them a franchise-record seventh on the road.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Panthers 23
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.