Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
As I write this, in less than 24 hours the Seattle Seahawks will embark on their playoff quest for a second consecutive Super Bowl title when they tee it up against the Carolina Panthers tomorrow at CenturyLink Field in Seattle in the NFC Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. For us “Twelves” it has been a long two weeks since our team clinched the NFC West Title (AND home field advantage through the playoffs!) with a 20-6 win over the St. Louis Rams at The Clink. The Hawks go into this game as prohibitive 11 point favorites to advance to the NFC Title game for the second straight season—and I am inclined to agree with the odds makers. Of all of the national prognosticators I checked (at least 20) I could only find one that predicted a Panthers victory, and that guy was a Carolina homer from Charlotte. As with them, it is very difficult for me to see how the Panthers can win this game.
Nevertheless, games like this make me nervous. Carolina comes in to Seattle with absolutely nothing to lose. They took the NFC South Division title with less than a .500 record (7-8-1) and only did that by winning their last 4 games of the season. Before that they endured a 7 game winless stretch of contests during which time they were 0-6-1. Seattle has won the last 3 times they have played the Panthers with the most recent being that last minute, 13-9 victory earlier this season in Charlotte. The resurgence of the Panthers at season’s end is coincident with the re-emergence of Jonathon Stewart as a top flight NFL running back, AND with the return to form of the Carolina defense. Though injured earlier in the season, Stewart rushed for over 400 yards in the month of December alone; and across the last 5 games of the season the Panthers racked up more yards on the ground than any team in the NFL, including the Seahawks (who finished number 2 in that span). The former Oregon Duck, who played his high school football in Lacey, just 40 miles south of Seattle, finished with 809 yards for the season and a sparkling 4.6 yards per carry average. The Hawks defense will need to bring their “A” game to slow him down.
The Panthers defense is led by All Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly who has had an absolutely stellar season; leading the league with 153 tackles, 21 of which were of the no gain or loss variety (best amongst all inside linebackers in football). Add to this the fact that since being drafted in 2012 Kuechly has more tackles (473) than anyone in the NFL and you start to get inkling of just how good this guy is. He is equally adept against the run and the pass, as we saw last week with his 4th quarter interception in the Wild Card game against the Cardinals that thwarted a drive deep in Carolina territory. (If not for another remarkable season by star Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt the Panthers linebacker likely would have walked off with the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.) Kuechly leads a defense that has surrendered only 59 points across its last 5 games and one that has dramatically improved its play as the season has progressed. From week 14 of the season to week 17 the Panthers are the number 2 ranked defense in football, second only to the Seahawks.
Added to this mix is Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who is a threat with both his arm and his legs. Since coming into the league 4 seasons ago Newton has more quarterback rushing yards than any quarterback in football, and he must be accounted for by the Hawks defense or he is completely capable of having a big game; something Seattle simply cannot allow if they want to live up to that 11 point spread.
With all of the above you can see that the danger in this game is that right now the Carolina Panthers are not the team their season record suggests. They are hot, having won 5 straight games now, and will come into the Clink with confidence and looking for the upset.
Despite my nervousness and everything I have covered above, I really do not see the Panthers winning this game. As good as their defense has been playing, Seattle’s defense is off the charts good and has been stopping everything in sight; and I just cannot see Cam Newton (or Jonathon Stewart) beating them. I look for Seattle to have another dominant defensive performance in which they shut down the run and force Newton into some bad decisions and at least 2 interceptions in front of the maniacal Seattle crowd. Across the season Carolina has been only the 16th best team in football against the run, giving up 4.5 yards per rush, and Seattle has the league’s top ranked rushing attack by a wide margin. As always, the Seahawks will run the ball with liberal doses of Marshawn Lynch and, when he can, Russell Wilson. The Seattle QB will need to play a good game and not turn the ball over, which he rarely does. Even many Hawks fans don’t fully realize just how good Wilson is. To this point in his career he has accumulated some stunning stats; among them the fact that he is the only quarterback in NFL history with 20 or more TD passes and 10 or fewer interceptions in each of his first 3 seasons. That is an amazing fact, and speaks to why Wilson has also won more games across his first 3 seasons (36) than any other quarterback ever. Considering these facts the notion of Wilson as a “game manager” should be put to rest. The guy is a winner and a remarkable football player, as well as quarterback.
Considering everything I have covered here, and not to get ahead of ourselves, I think Hawks fans can expect their team in the NFC Championship game next week at the Clink for a second straight season—just one game away from a repeat visit to the Super Bowl!
We “Twelves” may just be witnessing NFL football history!
Enjoy every minute of it!
And Go Hawks!!!
Copyright © 2015
By Mark Arnold
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