By Shawn S. Lealos
In October, the Carolina Panthers were undefeated and headed into a game with the struggling Seattle Seahawks. After two straight Super Bowl appearances, the Seahawks came into the game 2-3 and needed a spark. They led the Panthers until late in the game when Cam Newton rallied his team for the four-point win. Carolina ended up only losing one game this season and the Seahawks roared back to life and made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. Here is a look at Seattle as they head into Carolina to battle the number one seeded Panthers.
When Seattle left their game with Carolina in October, they were 2-4 and in some trouble. However, they showed in that game that they could contend with the Panthers and they responded after that by going on a roll. Following that loss, Seattle won eight of their last 10 games to finish the season with a 10-6 record. It was a nice finish, but only good enough for the final Wild Card seed. That means they have to face number one Carolina at home, and they are hoping the final result is different this time around.
Seattle Seahawks on Offense
Amazingly, the Seattle Seahawks have continued to win despite losing Marshawn Lynch to injury this season. Without Lynch, Thomas Rawls has had to step in to the lead running back role, and he has done fine in the role. Rawls has 830 rushing yards for an impressive 5.6 yards per carry since taking over, although he has only run for four touchdowns. His success is nice, but he is not why Seattle’s offense has been so powerful over the second half of the season.
That all lays on the shoulders of Russell Wilson. No loner considered a game manager, Wilson threw for over 4,000 yards for the first time in his career, and his 110.1 quarterback rating is par for course. He has finished three of his four seasons in Seattle with over a 100 quarterback rating, but he has never been asked to do as much as he has this year. He has thrown 34 touchdown passes with only eight interceptions, and is playing like a true NFL great.
Even more impressive is who he has been playing with. The Seahawks brought in one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Jimmy Graham, and he spent most of the season injured. That has left Doug Baldwin, who has always been serviceable at best, as the go-to receiver and he responded with 78 receptions for 1,069 yards, along with an amazing 14 touchdown receptions. Add in Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockett and Wilson is winning with a mishmash of receivers, proving how great this young quarterback really is.
Seattle Seahawks on Defense
Of course, Russell Wilson is the man scoring points for Seattle, but the Seahawks have become one of the NFL’s most dominant teams thanks to their defense. This weekend’s playoff game will pit two of the best defenses in the NFL against each other and the one who bends will be the one who loses. This is not where Seattle loses, as they are ranked second in the NFL in total defense. They rank second against the pass and first against the run, so it will be hard for Cam Newton to move against this unit.
Carolina has Seattle outmatched on turnover ratio, as the Panthers rank first with an astonishing +20 in turnover rate, while Seattle has a still impressive +6. The regular suspects are here for Seattle, with Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Bruce Irvin and Richard Sherman all ready to wreck havoc and try to stop Newton and company. Sherman leads the team with 14 passes defensed while Thomas leads with five picks.
K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner both eclipsed 100 tackles on the season, combining for 230. Michael Bennett is the sack leader with 10, although Cliff Avril also added nine of his own.
Seattle Seahawks’ Players to Watch
Russell Wilson: The offensive player that can beat Carolina in this game is Russell Wilson. When they last played, Wilson threw for 241 yards and one touchdown while running for 53 more yards. Marshawn Lynch played in that game. Lynch hasn’t played since Nov. 15, and since then Wilson has averaged 284 passing yards a game with 24 touchdown passes, meaning he has thrown 70 percent of his touchdowns since Lynch’s injury.
Richard Sherman: Richard Sherman doesn’t lead the team in interceptions, but he does lead in passes defensed and he is playing as great as ever. After the 2-4 start, Sherman has both interceptions and 11 of his pass defenses, while adding six tackles and another pass defense in the first round playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings. Sherman shuts down playmakers.
It is hard to believe that the Carolina Panthers vs. Seattle Seahawks game is pitting the first and last seeds in the NFC against each other. This will be the best game of the weekend, with the two best defenses in the NFC battling to stop two pretty powerful offenses. In 2014, the two teams played in this exact round and Seattle won 31-17. This is a different Carolina team, and with a four point win earlier in the season, the Panthers have every chance to gain revenge for last year’s loss.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.