Panthers@Seahawks: Preview & Prediction

Way back at the beginning of the season, I picked Green Bay to march into CenturyLink Field and defeat the Seahawks, and I was, of course, woefully incorrect. Since that opening game, Seattle, though not quite flawless, have been predictably excellent, only losing one game at home all season and enter the playoffs riding a 6 game winning streak. Opposite them stands a Carolina team who finished the regular season in similarly victorious fashion, and who, despite being obvious underdogs this week, should definitely not be written off without hope.

 

Last week the Panthers did what they needed to, and inevitably got the job done against a limp and lifeless Arizona offence who were held to only 78 total yards, the fewest in NFL Playoff history. It is no exaggeration to say that Cam Newton and company should really be disappointed to have conceded double figures against a Cardinals attack that could hardly be deemed of an NFL standard, let alone one capable for putting up points in a playoff game. Mistakes allowed the Cards to hang around, and if the Panthers are to progress any further this post season they will need to eliminate such errors.

 

Cam Newton looked uncomfortable to me, his body shape and throwing mechanics appeared off-balance and uncertain and his 18 of 32, 198 yard performance was fraught with poorly executed passes. His stats were boosted by a neat 39 yard touchdown catch-and-run by the excellently named Fozzy Whittaker and he was perhaps fortunate to escape with only 1 interception against his name. To me this indicates the biggest potential flaw in the Panthers’ game-plan, as no matter how well they manage to contain Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, if Newton cannot take care of, and manage to move the ball against the authoritarian Seattle defence, they have no chance of pulling off the upset.

 

Speaking of Seattle’s defence, it has been practically faultless over the course of their 6 game winning streak, and the 39 total points they have conceded since they last lost back in week 11 almost defies belief in its stinginess. Carolina will do well to score close to 20 points in this game, though if Carolina’s recent defensive statistics are anything to go by, so will Seattle. Though not quite as jaw-droppingly impressive as Seattle, the Panthers have only allowed 59 points in their last 5 games, a truly outstanding feat.

 

Carolina have all the tools on defence to put the brakes on Seattle’s attack. With Luke Kuechley and Thomas Davis, they excel in stopping the run outside, as well as the short screen passes Wilson likes to employ. Though they will be weakened inside by Star Lotulelei’s absence, I still fancy Kuechley et al to give up a similar amount of points as they have done the last couple of times these teams have met, which is to say, not many. In their most recent contest back in week 8, Seattle came out on top in an unconvincing 13-9 defensive slugfest thanks to a last minutes touchdown, and with both teams having improved defensively since then, I see no evidence to suggest we are about to witness anything too dissimilar. That being said, I can quite conceivably imagine Seattle’s defence adding some points to the total,  and this could prove crucial.

 

I worry that for all their strengths, Carolina’s offense just won’t have the necessary playmaking ability to put enough points on the board, and I think that in order for them to win this game there will have to be a defensive or special teams score, or at a couple of huge turnovers in prime field position that they can capitalise on. I feel strongly that despite Newton’s ability to run and the excellent form of Jonathan Stewart, If Seattle turn up, and the 12th man do their job making Cam’s life hard at the line of scrimmage, Carolina’s receivers just aren’t good enough to challenge the Legion of Boom, even if I do have a lot of time for tight end Greg Olsen.

 

It comes down to how much I trust Cam Newton, and in truth, though he did end the regular season well, I saw too much to concern me last week to throw myself fully behind him. His lack of weapons against the robust Seattle secondary concerns me, and I feel like he will be unable to play a mistake-free game, and against Seattle, I think that will prove costly. I don’t believe that this will be a washout, and I fully expect the Panthers defence to keep the game tight, at least for the first half, but ultimately the class between the two teams will show. The bookies make Seattle 11 point favourites, and even taking into account the fact that the Seahawks have covered the spread every game since week 12, I still think that’s being very generous where Carolina are concerned, and although I expect the Seahawks to win, that seems a large margin to me.

 

In my opening article of the season back in August, I mentioned that no Super Bowl winning team has even managed to win a playoff game the season following their victory since the 2005 Patriots. I wrote that this bizarre trend surely had a better chance of being ended this season than in any of the years prior, and now I’m delighted to say I’m quite confident of being proved right. Talk about going out on a limb…

 

Carolina 16 – 24 Seattle

As always, any thoughts, comments or just want to shout at me, find me on twitter! – @DylanBaker1986