Can Nick Goings carry the Panthers' running game? Last year, when injuries beset the backfield, he shocked everyone by rushing for 100 yards or more in five of his first seven starts; all five were wins. With starter DeShaun Foster out with a broken leg, the duties again fall to Goings (left). But the Seahawks can't afford to cram the box to stop him, not with wideout Steve Smith around. With 22 catches in the last two games Smith has been the most dangerous player in this postseason. He'll see all sorts of fancy coverage schemes--but so did the Redskins' Santana Moss, and he put up big numbers against Seattle.
What I can't get out of my head is the way Washington blunted the Seahawks' running attack, even with Shaun Alexander, and Seattle's four straight first-half three-and-outs. Carolina's an emotional team, with the kind of roughneck defense that gives the Seahawks trouble. The DBs like to crowd receivers, and if the game doesn't fall into the hands of a flag-happy officiating crew, they should have an advantage. In September, I picked the Panthers as my Super Bowl winner. I'm not getting off them when they need me most. Panthers 24, Seahawks 20.