I expect an epic.
That’s what Sunday’s playoff game between Carolina and Seattle really should be, and I will be disappointed if it is anything less. A game that pits the two best teams in the NFC (in my estimation) really should be played a week later, in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 24th.
But this is how it is going to be, and in a larger sense this is the way it should be. Carolina wants to lay claim to being the best team in the NFC, and to do that the Panthers must beat a Seattle team that has been the best in the NFC the past two seasons.
So if it’s not an epic – if it’s not decided in the fourth quarter, with the crowd roaring loud enough to shake the Charlotte skyscrapers – I will be surprised. Despite the fact that Carolina has only lost one time this season and Seattle has lost six, these teams seem very evenly matched to me.
▪ Three things I am wondering about: Can the Panthers effectively block Michael Bennett? Will Panthers cornerbacks Robert McClain and Cortland Finnegan hold up? And, most importantly, can Cam Newton outplay Russell Wilson?
▪ Here’s an item that makes you understand how good Seattle’s run defense has been. Despite all the Panthers’ recent meetings with Seattle, the most rushing yards any Carolina player has put up against Seattle came from Tshimanga Biakabutuka, who had 103 rushing yards in 2000. If Jonathan Stewart was ever going to go over 100 against the Seahawks, Sunday would be the right day to do it.
▪ Turnovers in the playoffs are magnified. Carolina led the NFL in takeaways this season, with 39, but the game against Seattle was the one time all year the Panthers didn’t come up with a single takeaway. The Panthers won that game anyway, but I don’t think that’s a good recipe. If the Panthers don’t get at least one turnover from the Seahawks Sunday, I don’t think they will win.
▪ Prediction time: I finished the regular season 12-4 when picking Panthers’ outcomes. My pick for Sunday: Carolina 24, Seattle 22.
Fowler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scott_fowler