Latest Matchup Represents End of an Era for Seahawks, Panthers

CorbinSmithNFL

Though they’re not division rivals, the Seahawks and Panthers have played each other eight times since 2012, including splitting a pair of postseason games.

With a 40-7 beatdown by Seattle at CenturyLink Field in 2016 as the exception, matchups between these two franchises have typically gone down to the wire. Five of the other seven contests were one possession games, including the Seahawks 30-27 win in Carolina last season.

With two defensive-minded head coaches in Pete Carroll and Ron Rivera on the sidelines, dual-threat quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Cam Newton running the offenses, and strong running games to complement their passing attacks, each team mirrored the other in a myriad of ways, leading to physical, generally low scoring affairs.

Starting in 2012, Seattle traveled to Bank of America Stadium three straight seasons, winning each defensive slugfest by five points or less. Two of those games featured game-winning fourth quarter touchdown passes from Wilson to receiver Jermaine Kearse and tight end Luke Willson.

As mentioned by Wilson, it feels like the Seahawks have played in Carolina a million times since he entered the league. They’ve gone 4-1 in five previous games there, with the lone defeat coming in the 2015 NFC Divisional Round.

“I feel like we’ve played a bunch there. Fifth time only? I think we played them like 10 times over the past several years. I’ve been able to see a lot of those guys.”

Gearing up for Sunday’s ninth meeting, much has changed for both teams, especially for the Panthers. Newton will miss the rest of the season with a Lisfranc injury and may not be back next year, Rivera  received his pink slip two weeks ago, and several key starters such as Kawann Short and Greg Olsen will also be sidelined.

With new owner David Tepper ready to leave his mark on the franchise, there’s a great chance Carolina will look dramatically different in 2020 and beyond. It’s truly the end of an era between two teams that have battled in meaningful games for nearly a decade.

But going into a must-win Week 15, coach Pete Carroll isn’t overlooking the Panthers, who still have a bevy of play makers on the offensive side of the football at second-year quarterback Kyle Allen’s disposal. He’s expecting them to come out ready to play and give the Seahawks their best shot.

“It’s a good club,” Carroll commented on Wednesday. “Over the years, we’ve always had great respect for them when Cam [Newton] was playing. We’ve seen the good that Kyle [Allen] can bring them. They’re formidable because of all the ways they can attack you.”

Many of the traits that made Carolina dangerous in the NFC with Rivera at the helm remain, as the team relies heavily on do-it-all running back Christian McCaffrey. The third-year superstar ranks third in the NFL in rushing with over 1,200 yards and has caught 86 passes for 726 yards out of the backfield with 16 combined touchdowns.

The Seahawks know how McCaffrey can take over a game from firsthand experience, as he lit them up with 237 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. He rushed for 125 yards on just 17 carries and caught a whopping 11 passes for 116 yards.

“It just shows the versatility that he has and what they want to do with him,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said in regard to McCaffrey. “Definitely got to be on your game. The last time we played them, he had a pretty good game. We’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

While Olsen has been ruled out with a concussion, the Panthers still have rising second-year receiver D.J. Moore and third-year receiver Curtis Samuel on the outside. Moore already has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the season, while the versatile Samuel leads the team with five receiving touchdowns and has 100 rushing yards as well.

Wilson also maintains respect towards Carolina’s defense, a unit that has been ravaged by injuries this season. Led by All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, there’s still plenty of star power at all three levels for Seattle to deal with on Sunday, even if the group has struggled as a whole during a five-game losing streak.

“They’re a very aggressive defense,” Wilson stated. “They got a great defensive line. Great linebackers. Great corners and safeties and stuff like that. We got to be really sharp. We’ve got to be on our stuff. We’ve got to be in tuned with what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it.”

On paper, with the Seahawks facing a backup quarterback and a defense ranking among the league’s worst defending the run, this matchup has the makings of a potential blowout. But coming off a lackluster performance in Los Angeles, the team won’t be taking the Panthers lightly.

If the Seahawks want to clinch a playoff berth, Wilson knows they’re going to have to earn a victory in a tough road environment. It’ll boil down to being the aggressor from opening kickoff, and after all the close encounters they’ve had over the years, he’s preparing for another classic.

“Be in attack mode and try to find a way to get a huge win on the road. Every time we go there, it’s always a battle it seems like. It always comes down to the wire, so we have to be prepared for that.”

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