In a rematch of January’s NFC Divisional round clash, the 4-0 Carolina Panthers will travel to Seattle to take on the struggling 2-3 Seahawks. Despite having virtually no offense outside of Cam Newton, the Panthers are 4-0 after their bye week and sit atop the NFC South. The Panther opened the season with wins over Jacksonville and Houston before going 2-0 in their division with victories over the Saints and the Buccaneers. The Seahawks lost a close opening week road contest to divisional rivals St. Louis before losing to the Packers at Lambeau. They bounced back with a shutout win over Chicago at home before getting lucky in a controversial home win over Detroit. Last week they traveled to Cincinnati and blew a commanding 24-7 lead as they fell to the Bengals.
Three Keys to the Game
- Can the Seahawks shut down Cam Newton?
Cam Newton has firmly put himself in the MVP conversation this season by looking and acting even more like a franchise quarterback. Newton has dealt with a lack of weapons on offense by shouldering the load and carrying the Panthers to 4-0. But he faces one of the league’s best defenses in Seattle, who only need to neutralize Newton to put the Panthers on the back foot. The return of Jerricho Cotchery gives Newton one of his weapons back, but Carolina will still struggle against a Seattle defense that shut down a powerhouse Bengals offense for three-quarters last week.
- Is Marshawn Lynch healthy?
After missing time with a hamstring injury, Lynch is due back for Sunday’s clash. If Lynch is at 100%, expect him to feature heavily in Seattle’s game plan against a strong Carolina defense. Lynch can take pressure off a struggling offensive line and can give Russell Wilson the chance to make play-action plays to Jimmy Graham and other receivers. Even if Lynch struggles again, a good performance last week by rookie Thomas Rawls will give Seattle another option.
- Can the Seahawks protect Russell Wilson?
The Seahawks need to avoid allowing as much pressure on Wilson as possible. Difficult when your quarterback has been sacked the most times in the league. Carolina’s strong defense got a boost this week with the return of star linebacker Luke Kuechly, who missed three games with a concussion and will be eager to have a big game. Even if Seattle manages to keep sacks down, pressure on Wilson could still lead to interceptions from Carolina’s ball-hawking corner Josh Norman.
Match-up to watch
Cam Newton vs Russell Wilson – With similar styles of play, comparing Newton and Wilson is a key factor in this game. Newton has the better offensive line, while Wilson has the better weapons. But because Newton has had to win without playmakers around him, he has become more adept at using what he has. Wilson has the likes of Jimmy Graham to throw to, but the Seahawks have struggled to use the star tight end effectively. Newton has grown as a player this season and makes better decisions when forced into running situations. He has been able to play more from the pocket and has reached Wilson’s level so far.
With Seattle playing at home and with a potentially healthy Marshawn Lynch supported by their famous defense, it looks like the Seahawks have all the tools to end Carolina’s unbeaten run. But don’t count out Newton and the Panthers. How’s this for a stat? In five games, Seattle’s offense has averaged just 15.8 points per game. In four games, Newton and the Panthers offense has averaged 22 points. This game is pivotal for both teams, but I think the Panthers can pull off an upset on Sunday.
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