Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was still thawing out late Sunday afternoon when he was asked for the first time what he expected from the Carolina Panthers, his team’s opponents in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs next Sunday.
“They’ve had an incredible season, they’ve made it look easy,” Carroll said of the Panthers (15-1), the NFC’s top seed. “They’ve had so many dominant games on both sides of the ball.”
Moments earlier, Carroll and the sixth-seed Seahawks had come in from the sub-zero cold, where they had beaten the Minnesota Vikings 10-9 in a wildcard game at TCF Bank Stadium. The Seahawks not only survived the cold, but a late 27-yard field goal attempt by Minnesota’s Blair Walsh that sailed wide left.
“I told them to enjoy the heck out of it,” Carroll said of his post-game message to his team. “(Victories) are so hard to come by. So to survive this game, to get on out of here and to get on to the next ball game, it’s an enormous accomplishment.”
That next ball game is Sunday in a much-warmer Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers await after having a bye week.
Carolina and Seattle (11-6) have struck up quite a rivalry in recent years, with the Seahawks knocking the Panthers out of the playoffs last season. This will be the seventh time since 2010 that the Panthers and Seahawks have played, with the Panthers’ 27-23 victory in Seattle in October breaking a five-game Seahawks winning streak. It won’t stop Sunday: They’ll play again in the 2016 regular season in Seattle.
Since Cam Newton’s late touchdown pass to Greg Olsen beat the Seahawks in Week 6, Seattle players say they haven’t thought too much about the Panthers. But they’re familiar enough from the teams’ history against each other that they know what kind of game Sunday’s promises to be.
“It’s going to be fun, it’s always fun when we play Carolina,” said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who had six tackles against the Vikings on Sunday. “It will be a physical game, go back and forth, with both teams running it. We’ll both hit each other in the mouth. Then we’ll see who’s standing at the end.”
Roles will be switched, however. The Seahawks, who have played in the past two Super Bowls (winning after the 2013 season, losing last season), are accustomed to going through the playoffs as a high seed, seldom playing away from home. This year is different. If they want to make it to Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif., they’ll have to stay on the road throughout the playoffs as the lowest-seeded team in the NFC.
“We realize that if we’re going to do this, it’s going to be on the road,” said Carroll. “If we’re going to do something really special, it’s going to take an incredible run for us.
“We’ve been there before. Now, (Carolina) has gotten those breaks. They’re well rested and all of that. We know how much of an advantage it is to be at home after a break.”
The Seahawks have gone 11-4 after losing their first two games (winning six straight at one point), and beat the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals 36-6 on the road to close the regular season last week. After passing their first road playoff test against the Vikings, another long flight, this time to Charlotte, is next.
“The Panthers are a great team and that will be a special game,” said Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. “We have had great battles with this team. We always come back when it is time to play championship football.”
Wild card round
Kansas City 30, Houston 0
Pittsburgh 18, Cincinnati 16
Seattle 10, Minnesota 9
Green Bay at Washington
Kansas City at New England, 4:35 (CBS)
Was/GB at Arizona, 8:15 (NBC)
Seattle at Carolina, 1:05 (Fox)
Pittsburgh at Denver, 4:30 (CBS)
Sunday, Jan. 24
AFC, 3:05 (CBS); NFC, 6:40 (Fox)
Super Bowl 50
Sunday, Feb. 7
At Santa Clara, Calif.