Seahawks at Carolina: Everything you need to know
Seattle (5-5) is very much in the mix of the NFC wild card race, which is in full swing. Every game from here on out matters greatly to everyone involved, and it's a deep field.
Leading the way entering Sunday are Carolina (6-4), Minnesota (5-4-1) and Washington (6-5). Washington entered the wild card picture after losing Thursday at Dallas (6-5) to fall into second place in the NFC East behind the Cowboys. Fourth on the list is Seattle.
A win today would put the Seahawks in the driver's seat given that they will have four of their final five games at home and three of their remaining games come against San Francisco (twice) and Arizona. Carolina could remain the top dog in the wild card hunt with a victory.
How and where to watch
Betting line: Carolina minus 3.
Time: 10 a.m., Sunday.
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
T.V.: FOX (KPTV 12).
Radio: Portland, KFXX, 1080 AM and Portland, KGON, 92.3 FM
LB K.J. Wright (knee) is listed as out for the second consecutive week and eighth time this season. WR Doug Baldwin (groin) will be a game-time decision.
“We’re going to work him out in pregame and make sure he’s OK,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of Baldwin.
S Neiko Thorpe (groin) and DE Dion Jordan (knee) return after missing last week's win over Green Bay.
WR Devin Funchess (back) is listed as doubtful. WR Torrey Smith (knee) is questionable.
When the Seahawks have the ball
For the third time this season the Seahawks will face a team that is currently ranked in the top 10 in rushing defense.
Carolina, led by linebackers Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson, has allowed just 98.5 yards per game on the ground, a figure that ranks No. 7. Meetings this season against Chicago (No. 2) and Dallas (No. 3) yielded mixed results. Seattle managed just 74 yards on 3.2 yards per carry in a loss at Chicago. In a home win over Dallas the following week, Seattle gained 113 yards on 2.9 yards per carry.
Seattle's turnaround this season is directly tied to the team rushing for for 150 yards or more in seven consecutive games. Should that end on Sunday, Seattle could be in trouble.
“They’re really stout," Carroll said of Carolina's defense. You guys will recognize the names, all those guys that you’ve been seeing for years. There’s enough of those guys that you can feel their old ways. You can feel their experience. You can feel the playmaking ability. You can’t fool these guys. They’re really sharp and savvy."
When the Panthers have the ball
As usual, the Panthers' offense is all about QB Cam Newton. He is having his best statistical season with a career-high 102.8 passer rating. His 68.4 completion percentage crushes his 59.4 career percentage. Part of the change there should be credited to Christian McCaffrey, one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL. He has 60 receptions this season.
Where Seattle could make inroads would be to turn over Newton. The Panthers are 5-0 when Newton does not throw an interception and they are 1-4 when he does.
Seattle, however, has been slacking in the forced turnover department. The team has 10 interceptions but has been stuck on that number for some time. In fact, Seattle hasn't forced a turnover in three games.
“I’m really disappointed in that," Carroll said of the lack of forced turnovers. "It’s been difficult. It makes it harder to win and harder to get ahead and stay ahead without getting football off of our opponents."
Pete Carroll said the perceived difficulty of playing games on the East coast is overblown.
“Yeah, I think it was hard to go east because everybody talked about it was hard to go east," Carroll said. "I mean, you’ve just got to go do it and it isn’t even a factor anymore. We don’t win them all, but we’re okay about it. It’s all the build-up and the talk and the clamor about it that adds to it. I don’t know, we’re fine about it. We do our trips the way we do them and we traveled a little earlier than some people but I’m not counting on it being an issue.”
This game will feature two of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL. Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Seattle QB Russell Wilson is a serious threat.
"You’ve got to pay attention to him," Rivera said of Wilson. "He hands that ball off, you just don’t know if he really truly handed it off, or is he keeping it. Just that hesitation is enough sometimes to create that natural crease for your runner, or if you go crashing down hard and he pulls it like he did in the Rams game, he can make some big plays.”
Carolina is 5-0 at home and that isn't likely to change today. Expect the Panthers, reeling after having lost two consecutive games, to gang up against Seattle's No. 1-ranked running game and force Wilson to beat them. He is more than capable of doing so but don't expect it to happen on Sunday.
Newton and company will be able to put up points on Seattle's defense, which is tough against mediocre teams but has been vulnerable against elite quarterbacks. Granted, Seattle did well in the second half against Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers, but those games were at home. This game will be on the road where Carolina will force the action from start to finish.
Final score: Carolina 31, Seattle 23.