Like the Packers the week before, the Panthers are another team it feels like the Seahawks face every season. Including playoffs, these two NFC squads have met eight times since 2010, and many have been fairly memorable. The last meeting, a 40-7 Seahawks win on a Sunday night in December of 2016, included a franchise-altering moment when Earl Thomas broke his leg for the first time and considered retirement after. Thomas returned last season, but the injury clearly weighed on his mind when he decided to hold out this season, only to break his leg again once he returned. Thomas flipped the Seahawks the bird and may never play another down for Seattle, and it all started on that Sunday against the Panthers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Superman vs. Kryptonite
There’s no more annoying celebration in the NFL than Cam Newton pretending to rip open his jersey a la Superman after scoring a touchdown. Except maybe Newton’s finger-pointing first-down celebration. Luckily for Seahawks fans, neither has happened an awful lot in games they’ve faced the mammoth quarterback. In five regular-season games against Seattle, Newton sports just a 1-4 record with a quarterback rating of 69.8. He’s been sacked 11 times, and has thrown just three touchdowns to go along with three interceptions. Maybe the Seahawks really are Superman’s Kryptonite.
Seahawks linebackers vs. Christian McCaffrey
A key aspect of head coach Pete Carroll’s defense is the willingness to give up short passes in lieu of anything deep. That’s a scary thought heading into a game against the Panthers and former Stanford star running back McCaffrey. His 60 catches this season are third most among all running backs in the NFL. McCaffrey runs routes like a wide receiver, and can terrorize opposing linebackers with his quickness. With K.J. Wright and his coverage skills out for at least another week, Bobby Wagner, Barkevious Mingo and Austin Calitro are going to have to find a way to not let McCaffrey run all over the field.
Playoffs in vs. Playoffs out
Neither the Panthers nor the Seahawks are going to win their respective divisions. The Rams and Saints have the NFC West and NFC South virtually locked up already. That means these two teams are likely going to be locked into a battle for one of the two wild-card berths in the NFC. A head-to-head win could potentially go a long way for either Carolina or Seattle. According to Football Outsiders, the Panthers currently have a 60.2-percent chance to make the postseason, while the Seahawks are sitting at 45-percent. This game reeks of one that both teams are going to look back on at the end of the season as a potential turning point.
253.9 — The number of passing yards per game given up by the Panthers’ defense, fifth most in the NFL. Carolina gives up just 98.5 yards per game on the ground. Will this be the week the Seahawks unleash the passing game? Not likely. Seahawks coach Carroll is a stubborn old man, and he doesn’t seem to care one bit about what an opposing team does well. He’s going to play his style of game, like it or not. So expect the Seahawks and their league-leading rushing attack to try and impose their will on a good Panthers run defense.
DID YOU KNOW?
Panthers running backs coach Jim Skipper has been in the NFL for a long time. 32 years in fact. But for all that time, Skipper is perhaps best known for being head coach of the XFL’s San Francisco Demons for one marvelous season in 2001. Led by former California quarterback Mike Pawlawski, the Demons reached the XFL’s championship, the “Million Dollar Game,” before losing to the Los Angeles Extreme 38-6. Before his playing days in the XFL, Pawlawski once led No. 8 California to a 10-2 record and a second-place finish in the Pac-10 in 1991. The first-place team? The undefeated Washington Huskies, who split the national championship with Miami. Though, we all know the Huskies were the best team in college football that season.
Something that is often heard over the field microphones when watching a TV broadcast of an NFL game is the quarterback pointing to a defensive player and yelling the player’s number and calling him the “Mike.” For example, against the Sehawks you might hear “54’s the Mike,” with the opposing quarterback pointing to Bobby Wagner. Why do they do this? The simple answer is the quarterback is telling his blockers who is the middle linebacker, or “Mike.” That seems like something obvious, but it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. What the quarterback is really doing is telling his blockers who he wants them to consider the middle linebacker, no matter where the actual middle linebacker is on the field. In other words, the quarterback is centering, or aiming, his blocking scheme on whomever he identifies as the “Mike,” and his linemen will block accordingly. Blocking schemes are like a beautifully choreographed ballet, and the quarterback is telling his linemen which way to dance.
For a game of this magnitude with an early start on the West Coast, it feels like a time to break out the biscuits and gravy. Homemade biscuits are always the best, but canned will work in a pinch. Add a pound of fresh ground sausage to your sausage-flavored gravy for best results. According to The News & Observer, mimosas are the favorite cocktail of the lovely people in North Carolina, and there couldn’t be a better option for a morning game. Use fresh orange juice and your favorite Champagne or sparkling wine, and top off with a splash of triple sec.
Seahawks 24, Panthers 23
On paper, these two teams are very evenly matched. The Panthers get a bump for playing at home, but have lost two in a row after winning three straight. Newton has stuggled against the Seahawks in the past, but this Seattle defense is a far cry from some that he has faced. This game will likely come down to the Seahawks’ ability to stop McCaffrey from dominating in the short passing game. Seattle does just enough to earn a huge win on the road.