When the Seattle Seahawks (10-6) take on the Carolina Panthers (15-1) in the divisional round of the 2016 NFL playoffs, it’ll be the third time in just over a year that the two teams have met. In last year’s divisional round of the playoffs, the Seahawks held off a Panthers team who went 7-8-1 during the regular season. While that record was enough to win the NFC South last year, Carolina left no doubt who the best team in the division was this year. The Panthers not only locked up the No. 1 seed with their nearly undefeated season, but they also look like one of the best teams in the NFL.
As a matter of fact, Carolina got a bit of revenge for last year’s playoff loss during this year’s regular season, defeating the Seahawks 27-23 on the road. Basically, these two teams have created a rivalry over the past few seasons; one that’s about to get even hotter heading into this massive game. While the Seahawks come in at just three-point underdogs, many believe they’ll actually pull off the upset. The question is, what is it going to take for them to get the job done and leave Carolina with a win? Let’s check out the three reasons Seattle could win this game.
Red-hot Russell Wilson
Yes, Cam Newton will likely be the MVP this season, but we can’t overlook exactly how stellar Wilson has been in his own right. Not only has he increased his passing touchdowns by 14 from last season, but he also posted a career-high 110.1 quarterback rating as well. The most incredible thing has to be his play to finish the regular season though.
Wilson threw 24 touchdowns against exactly one interception in the final seven games of the season. While he came back down to earth a bit in the below-freezing temperatures in Minnesota during wild-card weekend, there’s no reason to be concerned. Wilson is the real deal, and he’s ready to get some revenge after a mediocre matchup against Carolina earlier in the season.
The Seattle defense
Having a talented defense like Seattle’s is an obvious advantage. Yes, Carolina has a superb defense too, but what Seattle did in the 11 games since their loss to the Panthers has been incredible. Over that 11-game span, Seattle allowed an average of 14.6 points per game. Even more amazing? They gave up 39 in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and 30 in a victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Take those two games out, and it’s an average of 10.2 points per game. The Seahawks are firing on all cylinders, but the combination of Wilson and this defense may be one of the scariest things in the NFL at this point. If the matchup of Wilson and his defensive unit against Newton and his defensive unit doesn’t get you excited, we aren’t sure what will.
The Panthers lacked both Jonathan Stewart and Ted Ginn Jr. to finish up the regular season. While both players will play in the divisional round, there are still two things we need to consider. First, we need to see how healthy both players actually are. Stewart and Ginn will play a big role for the Panthers on Sunday, as they’ll likely look to control the clock with the ground game and their Pro Bowl running back.
Ginn has become a consistent deep threat for Newton and could be a way to open up the field against Seattle. If one or both of these players are still dealing with an injury, it’ll absolutely impact Carolina. The second concern is the rust factor. We shouldn’t bet on it, but it’s a potential issue for a running back who could see a large number of carries. While the offensive injuries are important, let’s not forget to mention the fact that both cornerbacks, Bene Benwikere and Charles Tillman, are out for the remainder of the year as well. They will have a few young players looking to fill the void, which creates a situation worth monitoring.
Of all the underdogs playing in the divisional round, it’s likely that Seattle is one of the fan favorites to win the game outright. Even putting aside the fact that Carolina is 15-1, this is nearly a rivalry game; one that will have a revenge factor attached to it for Seattle to some extent. The potential for an upset is absolutely there for the Seahawks.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.