By Dave Thomas
While much of the NFL has been busy over the last day or so consumed with where some teams (Rams, Chargers, Raiders) may end up ultimately going, the focus in the Pacific Northwest is on where the Seahawks might be going, as in the NFC playoffs.
After a late fourth quarter spurt at Minnesota last Sunday that saw Seattle (11-6) grab the lead (10-9) and then hold on for dear life when Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed what seemed like a 27-year chip-shot field goal, the Seahawks were slated on their way to Charlotte for this Sunday’s divisional round contest with top-seed Carolina.
So what can Seahawks fans expect for the remainder of the week and heading into Sunday’s big rematch from not only this season (Carolina won earlier this season in Seattle 27-23), but also last post-season’s victory by Seattle over the visiting Panthers?
Does Seattle Have Answer For Newton?
Simply put, Seattle is looking to limit a Carolina offense that has been nothing short of impressive this season.
There is little doubt in practice this week that the Seahawks and head coach Pete Carroll are looking at ways to limit the man who is likely to win the NFL’s MVP award, one Cam Newton.
Of course, looking to limit Newton is more realistic than altogether trying to stop him, especially at home.
Coming into this Sunday’s game, Newton has helped the Panthers amass a league-leading 500 points on the season. On the defensive side of the ball, Carolina limited opponents to 308 points (net +192).
At the same time, Seattle got off to a rough 2-2 start, then reached 4-5 before getting their season going full-speed ahead.
While quarterback Russell Wilson has also been putting up some impressive stats (35 TD’s) this season, it is Seattle’s defense over the last month or so that has been equally, if not more, dominant.
For the second time this season, the Seahawks held the league’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, under 50 yards rushing last Sunday (had 18 yards in their regular season game, a 38-7 Seattle win).
Will Seahawks Reach Third Straight NFC Championship Game?
In order for Seattle to leave the Queen City this Sunday with a victory and then meet either second-seeded Arizona or fifth-seeded Green Bay in the NFC Championship a week later, keeping Newton from having a big day is nothing short of crucial.
In their week six meeting in October up in the Pacific Northwest, Newton threw for 269 yards, one TD and two interceptions. On the ground, Newton was held to a mere 30 yards rushing.
What hurt Seattle most on that early fall afternoon was one of their biggest dilemmas this season: Not closing games out in the fourth quarter.
Carolina won the final 15 minutes of play by a 13-3 score, including the game-winning pass from Newton to tight end Greg Olsen for 26 yards, a play in which it looked like Olsen essentially parted the Red Sea.
If Seattle can keep Newton under wraps, get enough out of their offense (more than they did last weekend at Minnesota), and hold a fourth quarter lead if they are fortunate enough to have one, then the Seahawks stand a good shot at going after their third straight NFC title a week later.
Adding a bright note for Carroll and Co., both running back Marshawn Lynch (recovering from abdomen surgery) and tight end Luke Wilson (concussion) fully participated in practice at the midway point of the week, giving Seahawks fans hope that both could play and be factors come Sunday.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.