Seahawks to host Panthers

The NFC Divisional Playoff matchups are set with Carolina heading to Seattle and the Dallas Cowboys heading to Green Bay to take on the Packers. There will be plenty of time to preview this weekend's matchup but for now, let's review what we learned about the Panthers in Week Eight, when the Seahawks were lucky to escape Charlotte with a 13-9 victory.

Below are the 10 Takeaways I wrote following Seattle's 13-9 in Week 8.

10. Give the CBS telecast credit, they nailed it with the "Missed Opportunities" tagline throughout the game. From Russell Wilson's inability to hit a wide-open Cooper Helfet in the third quarter, the dribbler snap from Steve Schilling, the missed safety sack by Michael Bennett, the potential TD-drops from Luke Willson and Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks were once again their own worst enemy and were very fortunate to leave Carolina with the 13-9 victory.

9. Injuries were once again an issue for the Seahawks in this game. Guards J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter each missed time, with the latter getting carted off the field with a back issue, at one point. Outside linebacker Malcolm Smith was sidelined and replaced with rookie Kevin Pierre-Louis. Defensive back Jeron Johnson looked wobbly and was helped to the sideline by training staff after a 4th quarter special teams play.

8. Wilson's duck of a pass to Helfet appeared to be the result of his sensing the approaching line of scrimmage and Carolina cornerback Josh Norman. On the play, Wilson was in position to get a few yards but was reading Norman. When the corner slipped while covering Helfet, he elected to rush towards Wilson rather than turn his back to the ball and attempt to catch up to Seattle's tight end. In one of the few times Wilson mishandled the ball in his NFL career thus far, he was unable to control the pigskin effectively and therefore his shot-putt of a pass fell woefully short.

7. While Wilson was at fault for third quarter miscue, don't blame him for Lynch's drop. While true that Wilson's final throw of the first half came hot and a little ahead of his back, the Pro Bowler makes that catch nearly every time. Instead, a critical drop from Seattle's superstar helped let Carolina off the hook after their own star, Cam Newton, let the ball slip through his hands to destroy a Panthers' scoring opportunity.

6. Though it was easy to say after Richardson's big kickoff to spark Seattle's first scoring drive, I liked Seattle's decision to start Richardson at kick returner. It was a bold decision by the coaching staff to put the rookie back there a week after last week's special teams gaffes. But, as he showed on his second return, Richardson has the elite speed to take advantage of a lane. Further, I liked the rookie's aggression to take the ball out of the back of the end zone on the game's opening kickoff. I also liked the willingness to challenge Carolina's cheating safeties on a deep ball to Richardson in the third quarter. The rookie would have been in a better position to make the reception if he'd leapt to meet the ball rather than wait for it. Even if he hadn't made the catch, Richardson may have been able to draw the pass interference flag or at least be in better position to play defensive back with two Panthers in the vicinity.

5. After drawing a holding penalty and dropping a potential touchdown earlier in the game, it was good to see Willson make the big play to help Seattle win. Given, Seattle's struggles at tight end since Zach Miller went down, it was easy to understand what the team may have been thinking if reports they investigated trade opportunities for Denver's Julius Thomas and Cleveland's Jordan Cameron.

4. Former Pac-12 standouts Jonathan Stewart (Oregon) and Star Lotulelei (Utah) brought their "A" game Sunday against the Seahawks. Stewart showed terrific balance and agility to juke Malcolm Smith in the hole on one first quarter run and kept his legs driving to fight through would-be tacklers all game long. He finished with a game-high 16 attempts for 79 rushing yards. Lynch, by comparison, had 14 attempts for 62 yards. Lotulelei's power and athleticism made him a constant threat on passing and running downs alike for Carolina.

3. Probably because he's so good in coverage, Richard Sherman's ability to defend the run is often underrated by national pundits. While he's not an explosive hitter, Sherman is alert in run defense and a very effective open-field tackler. Sherman did a nice job of battling through a block from the 6-5, 240 pound Kelvin Benjamin and squaring up to take out the feet of the ball-carrier on a triple option play in the second quarter. The Panthers appeared to have the blocking set up for a potential big play if Sherman had been unable to make the stop.

2. While Sherman performed well against the run, Benjamin and Newton were able to beat Seattle's star cornerback on for four catches on 94 yards, including as perfect of a contested catch win by a receiver as you'll ever see. Sandwiched by Sherman and All Pro free safety Earl Thomas, Benjamin somehow was able to haul in the 51-yarder to sparked Carolina's 4th quarter go-ahead field goal. The deep ball down the middle will be shown on every highlight show in football, so if you missed it live, don't worry you'll see it again. It was only the prettiest of several impressive connections made by Newton and Benjamin on the day, however. The duo had previously hooked up on a few passes - a deep out and a deep cross among them - that were as impressive as any passes completed towards No. 25 all year long. Newton's gambling nature and laser arm helped Benjamin take full advantage of his height and long arms that earned him a first round pick. Benjamin's day could have been even better as he let a potential touchdown slip through his fingers earlier in the game.

1. Clutch kick, Steven Hauschka. It would have been easy to question Pete Carroll had his veteran kicker not nailed the 58-yard field goal in the second quarter, but of course, Haushka - the most reliable kicker in franchise history - did. Haushka's successful attempt gave Seattle its first points of the game and tied Josh Brown for the longest field goal in franchise history.

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