Sehawks Panthers NFC Playoffs Preview

Sean Heffron weighs in on who he thinks will win today's NFC matchup between the Caroline Panthers and Seattle Seahawks.

After reaching two straight Super Bowls the Seattle Seahawks had to fight hard in the last stretch of the season to make a Wild Card Playoff birth. After injuries to work-horse running back  Marshawn Lynch and star tight end Jimmy Graham one could have expected the Seattle offense to struggle, but instead it flourished. Russell Wilson caught fire since week 11 and went on a historic stretch of performances that has revived the Seattle offense and made the Seahawks one of the most dangerous teams heading into the Playoffs. Russell Wilson finished the year with the best passer rating (110.1) on the season and incredible 79% completion percentage on third downs since week 11. Without a consistent running game to rely on Russell has made crucial plays on third downs to keep drives alive and has only 8 interceptions on the year rarely turns the ball over. Wilson has often been labeled as a scrambler but this season he boasts a league leading 118.6 passer rating in the pocket proving he is a threat in the pockets as well as outside of it. The Seahawks defense has also bounced back from an early disappointing start finished as the number one total defense in the league and are especially impressive against the run only giving up a league best 58 yards per game. Both the emergence of Russell Wilson and the stout Seattle defense are why they pose a threat to upset the 14-1 Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on Sunday. The Panthers did go into Seattle and come away with a impressive win due to a clutch fourth quarter drive led by Cam Newton. The Panthers are coming into the playoffs as Superbowl favorites and through their dominating defense, consistent running game, and the stellar play by Cam Newton boasted one of the best regular season performances week 1 to 17 in recent memory.

Cam Newton who is a shoe-in for MVP has been unstoppable at times this year running and throwing the ball and most importantly has saved his best play for the 4th quarter where he has led the Panthers to numerous down to the wire victories. The Panthers defense led by linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and lockdown cornerback Josh Norman have also made huge plays in close games and at times have completely overpowered other teams offenses. Even though the Seahawks are a 6th seed playing a 1 seed this matchup is considered one if the not the best of the divisional round weekend. The Seahawks are trying to return to the Super Bowl for their third straight year under Pete Carol and the Carolina Panthers are trying to return to their franchise’s second ever Super Bowl appearance and  their matchup against Seattle might be their biggest challenge on their road to Santa Clara. Both teams’ phenomenal defenses will have their work cut out for them against two the of the best quarterbacks this year and if Marshawn Lynch is able to go he and Jonathan Stewart are some of the league’s best backs. This game will come down to match ups in the secondary; if the combination of Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Bobby Wagner can shut down Newtons favorite target tight end Greg Olsen that and the Seattle pass rush led by Michael Bennett will force Cam to rely on his limited receiving corps and scrambling to move the football. This season was not only an explosion in productivity for Russell Wilson but also for wide out Doug Baldwin who has scored 14 touchdowns and been Wilson’s go to guy during the second half of the season. Josh Norman has made a name for himself taking team’s best wideout out of the game all season and if he is able to do that against Doug Baldwin that will severely impact Seattle’s offensive game plan. This game will come down to the wire and will come down to which star quarterback makes the biggest plays in the biggest moment. 

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