Scott Fowler

Carolina Panthers’ problem Sunday? Seattle has better players

This has become an annual ritual in Charlotte – the once-a-year visit from the Seattle Seahawks.

Whether the Carolina Panthers want another dose of Russell Wilson or not, here he comes again – undoubtedly ready to throw for another 300 yards, help a few old ladies cross Mint Street, wave to a couple of fans wearing N.C. State gear and jet back to the left coast with another victory.

The Panthers and Seattle played in Charlotte in October 2012 and September 2013. In both games, the Seahawks’ defense throttled Cam Newton and Carolina lost.

It was 16-12 the first time and 12-7 the next, and Newton didn’t throw for 150 yards in either one of them.

DeAngelo Williams fumbled inside the 10 late in the fourth quarter in 2013, ending Carolina’s best chance at victory, and he was disconsolate afterward.

“The hopes and dreams of the 11 guys on offense resided in that ball,” Williams said. There were 70,000 fans in Bank of America Stadium who were pretty disappointed, too.

This time, Newton will need to be spectacular if the Panthers are going to upset the defending Super Bowl champs. He not only can’t afford another passing game of 125 or 141 yards – his totals the first two times he played the Seahawks – but he probably needs those two numbers combined in the air to win. And no turnovers. And, most of all, a defense that remembers what it used to be.

Yes, the teams’ records look very similar – Seattle is 3-3 and Carolina is 3-3-1. But these two teams are not on an equal playing field. Seattle has better players.

Seattle has lost two games in a row, but the Seahawks also have a couple of signature wins, against Denver and Green Bay. The Seahawks beat the Packers by 20, while Carolina lost to that same Green Bay team by 21 (and it could have been much worse had the Packers kept trying).

It is true that Seattle is struggling, though not to the extent the Panthers are. The Seahawks haven’t been blown out a single time this season – in fact, the Seahawks have led or been within one score in the fourth quarter in their past 55 games in a row.

Carolina, on the other hand, has been blown out in all three of its losses this year. Take last week as an example. St. Louis needed a perfectly executed fake punt and tricky punt return to edge the Seahawks by two points. Carolina was down 38-3 in the fourth quarter.

Still, the Seahawks are not the juggernaut they were last season when they destroyed the Broncos in the Super Bowl 43-8. Like Carolina, Seattle’s defense has deteriorated. And in one key category, the Seahawks are far less fortunate than Carolina – they play in a much tougher division.

In the NFC South, Carolina’s .500 record is good for first place. In the NFC West, Seattle’s .500 record is only good for third place, behind both Arizona (5-1) and San Francisco (4-3).

If the playoffs began today, remarkably enough, the Panthers would be in and the Seahawks would be out.

What the Panthers most need out of Sunday is a win, of course. But what they need second-most is a confidence boost. To go toe-to-toe with Seattle is no easy feat, especially with Wilson playing so well at quarterback.

The Seahawks have come across the country twice in a row and edged the Panthers. A third straight winning trip seems likely.

But if Newton outplays Wilson, you never know.