For many, it’s almost the Super Bowl before the Super Bowl, three weeks ahead of schedule. The Seattle Seahawks travel to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday hoping to topple a side that went 15-1 in the regular season and make it to their third straight NFC Championship. Seattle are one of the league’s form teams, having won seven of their last eight games, but they only just managed to squeeze past the Minnesota Vikings in freezing temperatures last weekend and will need far more than 10 points to beat the Panthers.
Keys to the game
One thing that is an advantage for both quarterbacks in Sunday’s game is their ability to make plays with their feet as well as their arm. The key to stopping both Cam Newton and Russell Wilson will be to keep them in the pocket and take away their passing options down the field. Of course, that’s easier said than done, as Newton has scored the most rushing touchdowns of any quarterback this year, and Wilson’s improvisational skills are unmatched, as he proved when he turned a botched snap against Minnesota into a 35-yard completion to Tyler Lockett.
History repeats itself?
For Carolina, this game presents a chance to atone for last year’s divisional round game, in which they lost 31-17 at Seattle. This time, though, they’re playing at home, which is no small advantage. It’s been widely reported that the Seahawks have one of the loudest fanbases in the league up at CenturyLink Field, so to take away that unique advantage gives the Panthers a great chance of coming out of this game on top. Side note: if Carolina wins this game, it’ll be the first time they’ve played in the NFC Championship game since losing to Seattle 10 years ago.
Hold on tight
One of the things that stood in the Seahawks’ way, at least early on this season, was their inability to hold onto a fourth-quarter lead. Far too often this season, they were turned over in the last 15 minutes, and that very nearly continued against the Vikings last week, were it not for Blair Walsh’s errant kick. If the Seattle defense can step up and make sure they retain a lead once they get it, they’ll be heading to either Arizona or Green Bay in a week’s time. Side note: Russell Wilson has only had one game in his pro career where he hasn’t held a lead at any point in the game (against the Rams in Week 16).
Matchup to watch
Mike Remmers vs Michael Bennett Following a stellar season, Cam Newton is many people’s favourite to be named the league’s MVP this season. He’s shown remarkable poise as a passer and combined that with an almost unstoppable run threat. To do that, he’ll need excellent protection from his right tackle Mike Remmers, who’ll be charged with blocking the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, who had an outstanding game against Minnesota on Wildcard Weekend was Michael Bennett, who helped hold Adrian Peterson to just 45 yards rushing, and he’ll be hoping to do the same to Newton this weekend. This matchup will determine if Cam can do what he does best.
Both teams have had a lot going for them this season, but the Seahawks’ form in the second half of the season has been little short of spectacular. Although they were held to 10 points in the icy Minnesotan conditions last week, Carolina weather should be much more hospitable. It’ll be a shootout, but my money’s on Seattle to edge it.
Seahawks 35-31 Panthers
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