Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game at Seattle:
1. Each QB will be sacked 4-plus times.
Sunday’s prime time game features two of the NFL’s more athletic quarterbacks in Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. But neither has been getting much protection. The Seahawks’ offensive line problems have been performance-related. Seattle made a change up front after giving up six sacks in a loss at Tampa Bay. Bradley Sowell takes over for Garry Gilliam at right tackle. The Panthers’ injury-depleted line has only one player (left guard Andrew Norwell) at his Week 1 position.
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2. Russell Wilson will rush for 50 yards.
The former N.C. State quarterback was hobbled early this season while dealing with knee, ankle and pectoral injuries. But Wilson is healthy and back to making plays with his feet. Wilson had eight carries in each of the past two games, and finished with 80 rushing yards against the Bucs last week. The Panthers have mostly kept Wilson in check over the past four seasons. His best rushing game vs. Carolina (eight rushes for 53 yards) came last season in a loss. Wilson will be more effective vs. a Panthers defense that does not include middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (concussion).
3. Crowd noise will cause a Panthers turnover.
Seattle’s CenturyLink Field is not the place to trot out a newly constituted offensive line. The noise created by the Seahawks’ 12th-man fans gives even veteran lines issues. Newton will be taking snaps from third-team center Tyler Larsen. Also, with Trai Turner moving to tackle, the job of letting Larsen know when to make the shotgun snaps now falls on right guard Chris Scott. This sounds like the recipe for several false start penalties and worse – a botched snap resulting in a fumble.
4. Both tight ends will catch a TD pass.
Greg Olsen was tough on himself after two critical drops in the loss to the Raiders, including one on a two-point conversion try. Olsen came up big in two games vs. the Seahawks last season, hauling in the game-winning touchdown at Seattle and leading all Panthers receivers with six catches for 77 yards and a score in the playoff victory. Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham has 21 catches over the past four games and will be facing a Panthers secondary missing safety Kurt Coleman. That spells trouble for Carolina.
5. Panthers will fall in an early hole.
When this annual grudge match began in 2012, in Wilson’s rookie season, defenses ruled the day in close, low-scoring games. But this feels like a game that could get away from the Panthers quickly, much as their season did. Ron Rivera says it’s incumbent upon Carolina to grab an early lead, in part to keep the crowd at bay and keep the Seahawks from teeing off on Newton. Given the state of Carolina’s offensive line and the missing pieces on defense, this one won’t be particularly close. Seahawks 27, Panthers 14.
Panthers at Seahawks
CenturyLink Field, Seattle
Sunday, 8:25 p.m.
NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya)