Hasselback is pretty much the best QB in the NFC. Matt passed for 3459 yards with 24 TDs and only 9 INTs. He is a veteran that is hard to rattle. He proved in the Redskin game that he is capable of taking the team on his shoulders and winning a game. With Shaun Alexander out of the game he threw for 215 yards and a TD and also ran for 21 yards and a TD. His passer rating of 98.2 for the season was 4th in the NFL and 1st in the NFC. Jake Delhomme is a very good QB in his own right. Along with Hasselback he will be going to the probowl this year. Jake threw for 3421 yards with 24 TDs but did also have 16 INTs. His passer rating for the year was 88.1 which was 12 in the NFL and 4th in the NFC.
The hidden stat: Jake Delhomme is 5-1 in the post season with 4 of those wins coming on the road. Like in 2003 when he led the Panthers to the super bowl, Jake has stepped up his play in this post season. Jakes passer rating in his post season career near 108. He has established himself as a clutch player that knows how to win the big game.
RBs: Shaun Alexander vs Nick Goings
Alexander is the leagues MVP. He broke the record for the number of touchdowns a single season with 27 and led the NFL with 1880 rushing yards. He also had a very good 5.1 yards per rush average. It is obvious that Alexander was the key to the Seahawks going 13-3 on the year. He is the main reason the Seahawks had the #1 offense on the league this year. Alexander did suffer a concussion in the Seahawks win over the Redskins but should be ready to play against the Panthers.
Nick Goings started out the year as the Panthers 3rd string running back behind Davis and Foster. When Davis went on IR with a knee injury Nick was promoted to 2nd string and started getting more carries in relief of Foster. Foster broke his leg in the playoff win over the Chicago Bears so now if falls to Goings to carry the load. Expect Jamal Robertson to be Nicks back up. Also Brad Hoover is sure to get the short yardage carries.
The hidden stat: In 2004 both Davis and Foster went down to injuries and Goings was forced to carry the load. He did a good job as the feature back in the Carolina offense rushing for 100 or more yards 5 times in 7 games. He finished the year with 812 yards with a 3.8 yards per carry average.
WRs: Darrel Jackson vs Steve Smith
Jackson spent a good portion of the year on the injured list but came back with a flourish in the playoff win over the Redskins where he exploded for 9 catches, 143 yards and a TD. Jackson played in only 6 games during the regular season and had 38 receptions, 482 yards and 3 TDs. Jackson is not the only weapon at WR the Seahawks have. Joe Jurevicius was the team leader in the regular season in TD receptions with 10 and Bobby Engram was the leader in regular season receptions with 67. All three WRs will get plenty of playing time in the game against the Panthers. Enough cannot be said about the year that Steve Smith had. He led the league in reception yardage with 1563. He tied for the lead in TDs and receptions with 12 and 103. Smith is able to break the game wide open at anytime from anywhere on the field. He has continued his stellar play in the playoffs with 22 receptions, 302 yards and 3 TDs in just 2 games. Steve has also become the all time leader in playoff yardage with over 117 yards per game on average. The other WRs that will see the field against the Seahawks are Kerry Colbert, Ricky Proehl and Drew Carter. Colbert has had an off season behind Smith but has been doing a good job in run blocking. Ricky P is the veteran that the Panthers rely on to make the needed catch. Ricky only had 3 receptions in the win over the Bears but all where for first downs. Drew Carter is the speedster that the Panthers put in when they want to stretch the field. Drew has only 2 receptions in the post season but is averaging over 20 yards a catch.
The hidden stat: Deshaun Foster was second on the team in reception during the regular season. His pass catching ability will have to be matched by Nick Goings in the game against the Seahawks. Nick Goings has made a career of being a third down back with good hands and blocking ability. Goings runs routes with the WRs. Being part of the passing game will not be a new thing for him.
TEs: Jerramy Stevens vs Kris Mangum
Stevens had a, sort of, break out year this season. The underachieving TE totaled 45 receptions for 554 yards and 5 TDs. More was expected of Stevens when the Seahawks took him in the first round of the 2001 draft but he has only been average since. Stevens is a big guy at 6 7" tall and 260 pounds. He could cause some match up problems for our LBs. In the game against the Redskins he only had 2 receptions for 13 yards. Kris Mangum is the starting TE for the Panthers. He totaled just 23 catches for 202 yards and 2 TDs during the regular season but did a good job at his primary job, which is run blocking. Mangum is 65" and tips the scales at 252 pounds, has good blocking skills and decent hands when called upon to make a catch. Kris did have a TD reception in the win over the Bears. He is the only player to have a post season TD reception this year besides Steve Smith.
The hidden stat: The Panthers do play a bunch of two TE sets where Michael Gaines gets on the field. Gaines might be a better TE than Mangum but does not have the experience the Kris has. Gaines totaled 12 receptions for 155 yards and 2 TD in the regular season and has the size at 63" and a whopping 280 pounds to give most defensive ends fits when blocking.
OLs: Seahawks vs Panthers
The Seahawks have arguably the best offense line in the NFL. Some say the main reason for Shaun Alexander winning the rushing title was due to running behind this group. Not only did this group run block well but they also do a fine job in the passing game. They where tied for 5th in the league, giving up only 27 sacks on the year. The Panthers OL is also a good group. They have struggled in run blocking but did much better in the latter half of the season with Foster as the primary runner. They where able to hold blocks and give Deshaun holes to find. Goings running style is very similar so we should continue to see this trend. The Panthers OL also did a good job in the passing game, giving up on 28 sacks on the year.
The hidden stat: The Panthers OL has been together for the entire season with only some guys missing a few plays. They where working real well as a team the second half of the year. This can be seen mostly when comparing the two games against the Bears. In the First game the team rushed for less than 60 yards and gave up 8 sacks. In the playoff game the OL was able to hold the Bears to only 1 sack and blocked for over 130yards of rushing by the team.
Defense break downThe Seattle Seahawks defense is not one to take lightly. Their offense gets a lot of attention but on the other side of the ball they have a very good squad as well. They led the league in sacks this year, totaling 50 sacks. They do have a very good rushing defense also giving up on 94.4 yards per game. Those numbers might be tainted a bit.
Teams where playing from behind a lot and where forced to pass. One telling stat about how good their defense is the fact that they where 7th in scoring on the year. Only giving up 16.9 points per game. Their biggest weakness might be turnovers. They do not take the ball away with only 27 turnovers forced on the year, 16 ints and 11 fumbles. The Panthers defense on the other hand is the corner stone that the team is built on. They do well at stopping the run giving up only 91.6 yards per game. They also do well at keeping team from scoring, allowing only 16.2 points per game. Where they thrive is taking the ball away from the other team. On the year they have forced an amazing 42 turnovers, 23 ints and 19 forced fumbles. Lets not forget also that the Panthers do a good job at getting after the QB. They are 6th in the league is sacks with 45 sacks in the year.
My prediction for this game is the Panthers winning a close one. I think we will be able to throw the ball against a secondary that does not make many big plays. If they choose to double Steve Smith we should be able to take advantage of Drew Carter/Ricky Proehl in single coverage. I do think that getting the running game going will be the key to the game. If Seattle is able to stop Goings with only seven guys and we do not force them to bring an eighth man in to help they will be able to cover our WRs long enough to get pressure on Jake. The squad to watch will be our OL. They need to play well to open up holes in the running game for Goings and to give Jake time to find the open WR.
Panthers 28 Seahawks 24
Facts and statsOne thing that has to be mentioned when doing a break down of the NFC championship game is the fact that the Seahawks had the easiest schedule of any team in the league. This is not to take anything away from a great team that won 13 games on the year but it is interesting that the only teams that they beat with a winning record where Dallas at home by a last second field goal, the Giants at home with three missed field goals in overtime and at home against a Colts team that was resting its starters. Two of their three losses came to teams with winning records. They included a week one loss at Jacksonville by 12, a week 4 lose at Washington by 3. Their other loss was on the road at Green Bay when the Seahawks where resting their starters.
The Panthers are undefeated this year when winning the turnover battle. They are 9-0 when they have more turnovers than other team. They are 0-4 when the other team has more turnovers than the Panthers. They are 4-1 when the turnovers are even. The only lose coming on a last minute field goal (that should have never happened) against Dallas.
Jake Delhomme gets better in bigger games. Jake struggled against good defenses during the regular season. When facing the top two Ds in the league he went 1-2 with key interceptions in both loses. In the last playoff game against the number 1 scoring defense in the league Jake had a passer rating of an amazing 120.6. He did throw one INT but it took a very good play by the defensive MVP (Brian Urlacher).
Ken Lucas has been a great addition to the Panthers secondary this year. He came to the team through free agency from the Seahawks. When he played with the Seahawks he was very close to QB Matt Hasselbeck. When asked about Lucas, Hasselbeck answered "I invested a lot in Ken Lucas. I taught him everything I know. I really regret that now. Hell know a lot about our offense."