Tame the Beast
The Carolina Panthers have done a good job keeping running back Marshawn Lynch in check the past three seasons, never letting him go into “Beast Mode.” Carolina held Lynch to an average of 63 rushing yards per game in the three meetings, with an average gain of 3.7 yards per rush. Lynch has a long run of 25 yards and hasn’t scored a touchdown in those three games. The loss of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will hurt the interior defense to a degree, but the Panthers are deep up front. It will fall mostly on linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis to keep Lynch from reeling off an earthquake-inducing run like he had in the 2010 playoffs against the Saints.
Can Cam find a way?
Cam Newton’s struggles against Seattle’s defense have been well established. The Panthers’ quarterback has had two of his worst performances against the Seahawks, and those don’t include his two-turnover game in the 13-9 loss in Week 8 this season. The Panthers will feed running back Jonathan Stewart to try to grind out some long drives to take time off the clock and quiet the crowd a bit. But at some point, Newton will have to make a big play or two, either with his feet or arm. Russell Wilson has delivered the go-ahead or game-winning passes in each of Seattle’s three victories in Charlotte. It’s time for Newton to step forward against the league’s best defense.
Stepping out of special-teams obscurity
The Panthers have gotten huge plays the past two weeks from some of their less heralded special teams players. In the division-clinching win at Atlanta in Week 17, No. 3 quarterback Joe Webb ran down Devin Hester to save a touchdown on a long kickoff return. Melvin White forced Arizona kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. to fumble, and Kevin Reddick recovered at the Cardinals’ 4 – arguably the biggest play of the wild-card win. White (ankle) and backup safety Thomas DeCoud (hamstring) are less than 100 percent, so reserve defensive backs James Dockery and Robert Lester could play a more prominent role. The normally sure-handed Brenton Bersin has to move on from last week’s muffed punt.