NFC Championship: Panthers vs. Seahawks
Records: Carolina 13-5, Seattle 14-3 Site: Qwest Field in Seattle Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. PST TV: FOX SEASON RECAPS: Everything lined up perfectly for Seattle this season as the Seahawks enjoyed a team-record 11-game winning streak en route to the best record in the NFC. Carolina made it to the playoffs via the wild-card route despite early losses to New Orleans and Miami that left the Panthers with a 1-2 record coming out of September. Carolina responded with victories after each of its five losses this season. COMMON OPPONENTS COMPARISON: Vs. Arizona - Seattle swept the season series with 37-12 and 33-19 routs; Carolina defeated the Cardinals 24-20 in Week 5. Vs. Atlanta: - Seattle defeated the Falcons 21-18 in Week 2; Carolina swept Atlanta 24-6 and 44-11 in two late-season games. Vs. Dallas - Seattle defeated the Cowboys 13-10 in Week 4; Carolina lost to the Cowboys 24-20 in Week 16. Vs. Green Bay - Seattle lost to the Packers 23-17 in Week 17; Carolina defeated the Packers 32-29 in Week 4. Vs. New York Giants - Seattle defeated the Giants 24-21 in Week 12; Carolina shutout the Giants 23-0 on the road in the wild-card playoff round. Seattle is 5-1 against common opponents, including playoff competition; Carolina also is 5-1. PERSONNEL MATCHUPS Seattle offense vs. Carolina defense: Seattle offense finished third in the NFL in rushing and 13th in passing. Carolina defense was fourth against the rush and ninth against the pass. This matchup will be worth the admission price in the Emerald City. The Seahawks have assembled an impressive offense with five Pro Bowl starters, including league MVP Shaun Alexander and QB Matt Hasselback, who is having a career year. The Seahawks have scored 28 points or more nine times this season and haven't been held to fewer than 13 points in any game. The Carolina defense has been consistent in stopping the run and the pass. The strengths of both teams will counterbalance each other out and turnovers and mistakes will be the ultimate determining factor in this matchup. But the Seattle's balanced offense, which can thrive both on the ground and through the air, gives the Seahawks a slight edge against a tough, opportunistic Carolina defense. EDGE: Seahawks Carolina offense vs. Seattle defense: Carolina's offense ranked 19th in rushing and 17th in passing. Seattle's defene was fifth against the rush and 25th against the pass. This matchup is where this game will be decided – not because the units are exceptional, but due to the fact that both units are average when compared to the rest of the NFL. The Panthers will need to pass at some point in the game because the Seahawks will hold the Panthers' rushing attack at bay. The Panthers will have some success passing but also figure to make a mistake or two when they attempt to go to the air. EDGE: Seahawks Special Teams: For two teams that have gotten this deep in the postseason, neither have exceptional kicking games. Any field goal over mid-40-yard range is no sure thing for either kicker, particularly in a heated playoff atmosphere. The punting units for both sides haven't been consistent throughout the year, either. So this is the area that neither team would like to rely on – a place where it's more likely that mistakes will be made. The Panthers have been better in special teams throughout the season. EDGE: Panthers ANALYSIS: Seattle got over a huge hurdle by winning its first playoff game in 21 years last week against the Redskins. Everything seems to be falling into place for the Seahawks as most of their units are working in sync. Seattle has been relatively overlooked by the national media because of its location in the Pacific Northwest, so the Seahawks don't have the pressure other NFC frontrunners have faced in recent seasons. The Panthers have the experience of being a well-tested playoff team with a trip to the Super Bowl two years ago and three road playoff victories to their credit in their last two playoff visits. If there is any team that is capable of pulling the upset, it's the Panthers, who already have done it twice this postseason. However, weather is a factor and Seattle is used to being in a wet climate. Seattle will take control of this game early and cruise to the first Super Bowl berth in franchise's 30-year history. PREDICTION: Seattle 32, Carolina 18
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