When Carolina and Seattle played in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2014 and 2015, it had the feeling of an old fashioned heavyweight title bout. Cam “SuperCam” Newton vs Russ “DangeRuss” Wilson honestly belonged on an old boxing billing. We had the undercards in Luke Kuechly vs Marshawn Lynch, Josh Norman vs Doug Baldwin, and Richard Sherman vs Greg Olsen. It was a battle for the ages, and we scheduled our weekend around it.
These teams were so similar on both sides of the ball that it was honestly a shame that one of them had to lose, and you’d love to see them face off in the Super Bowl if it were possible.
Fast forward to this season, and really all that anyone can think of to describe the matchup is “maybe I’ll watch”. Part of the issue is that you would probably have trouble finding supporters outside of the two fan bases who would think of these two teams as NFC superpowers. Sure, Seattle has a winning record, but they are not consistently beating elite teams. They are having an equal amount of trouble with average teams, and Carolina is having trouble just getting out of their own way against just about anyone they face.
We saw Seattle get KO’d by Tampa Bay last week, and the Seahawks were so inconsistent on both sides of the ball that they made Tampa look an awful lot like the 2010 Seahawks, who used supersized receivers and a fired up defense along with a home crowd hungry for a big time win to upset the overconfident visitors.
Carolina lost a heart breaker to Oakland by a mere 3 points after being down 24-7 at halftime, and has looked like they lost their identity along with CB Josh Norman in the offseason. Whatever magic they summoned to take the league by storm last year dissipated when they lost to Denver in the season opener on a last second missed field goal.
The Panthers are 4-7 and look nothing like they did the last two years when they were a legitimate contender. Their defense was top five last season, and is struggling to stay in the top thirty this season, while their offense is still ranked tenth, nine spots lower than their number one spot last season. Seattle is 7-3-1 and could wind up snagging the #2 seed in the NFC if they can keep pace with 7-4 Atlanta, who lost to Seattle in week six. The Seahawks continue to hold water on defense despite enduring a revolving door of injured stars, but their offense is a work in progress, and the young offensive line has forced a ripple effect that has caused struggles across the rest of the team.
To emphasize this point, Wilson is on pace for 4167 yards, 16 TDs, and 6 INTs. The passing game struggles have been evident on the stat sheet, as Wilson already has five games this season where he has not thrown a single touchdown, as compared to last season where he averaged 2 TDs per game and threw at least one touchdown in all 16 games.
By comparison, Newton is on pace for 3,537 yards, 18 TDs, and 11 INTs, a far cry from the 3,837 yards, 35 TDs, and 10 INTs he put up last year. Newton had two games in 2015 where he failed to throw a TD pass, and through 12 weeks this season he is has two games with zero TD passes.
So what can we expect this Sunday? Probably something resembling their week 6 matchup in 2015 that featured a lot of offense, not much defense, and came down to a touchdown with less than a minute to play that gave Newton his first win against Russell Wilson. Newton would follow it up with a 31-0 halftime lead in the divisional round of the playoffs, with Wilson getting within 31-24 before running out of game clock.
In six matchups since the 2012 season including two showdowns in the playoffs, these teams have ended the game separated by a single score in five contests, levelling each other in defensive affairs in the first four games, and then exploding for 105 combined points during their two games in 2015.
This Sunday’s matchup should feature a lot of scoring, and two teams desperate to get their season back on track. After close wins over Buffalo, New England, and Philadelphia before coming to a halt in Tampa, Seattle has come back down to earth and needs a signature win to get some consistency going. With four of their wins coming against teams with winning records, Seattle needs to avoid overlooking Carolina and put the Panthers away early. Carolina has gone 3-2 since their bye week, but all four of their wins this season have come against teams with losing records, and a win against Seattle could get them feeling confident enough to beat elite teams again.
Seattle struggled against Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, and Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin have the size and ability to catch the ball in traffic that could give the Seahawks the same problems they couldn’t solve last week. The home crowd should aid matters, as Seattle typically plays much better at home than they do as the visiting team.
It may not look like the same matchup we drooled over the last few years, but these teams still have plenty to play for and a lot of pride on the line. Seattle holds a 4-2 edge in the series since 2012, and while Cam would love to show up Wilson on his home field for the second year in a row, Seattle should beat Carolina and avenge the loss that ended their 2015 playoffs.