Divisional Round Tale: Seattle Seahawks At Carolina Panthers
- QuarterbackThe Seahawks were stymied by the Vikings for three quarters, but they rallied for 10 fourth-quarter points and that proved to be enough when PK Blair Walsh couldn’t covert a last-second FG that would have allowed Minnesota to advance. Russell Wilson was red hot down the stretch with 24 TD passes in the last seven games, and he knows he must play to that form if the Seahawks are going to advance.The Panthers have been brilliant all season, and nobody has been better than quarterback Cam Newton, who is likely going to win the MVP award. Newton threw 35 TD passes this season and he also ran for 10 more scores. Newton is not as accurate as some of the elite passers in the NFL, but he comes through in the clutch nearly every time and he can hit the big play regularly.
- OffenseThe Seahawks were expecting to have Marshawn Lynch in the backfield after he practiced all week, but he had a setback at the end of the week. If he can’t play against the Panthers, it will give Seattle a one-dimensional offensive team. Doug Baldwin has become a star this season with 78-1,069-14 this year, while speedy rookie Tyler Lockett will test the Carolina secondary.The Panthers are not going to try to do anything fancy with their offense, but they cannot be sure that running back Jonathan Stewart (foot) is going to be able to carry a full load. Tight end Greg Olsen caught the game-winning touchdown pass when the Panthers won at Seattle earlier this year, and he has to be a big part of the game plan this week. Explosive Ted Ginn caught 10 TD passes this season.
- DefenseThe Seahawks have been an elite team in the NFL for several seasons largely because their defense has been among the best units in the league. While the Seahawks had a few struggles early in the year, the defense is nasty, aggressive and very physical. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is a powerful tackler, while defensive end Michael Bennett excels at getting to the quarterback.The Panthers are just as physical and aggressive as the Seahawks are on defense, and they have a pair of lights-out hitters in linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. That pair combined for 223 tackles and eight interceptions. Josh Norman excels in coverage as he had four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and 18 passes defensed.
- Special TeamsOne of the reasons the Seahawks won the Super Bowl two years ago and got back to the title game last year has been the strong play of their special teams. That area has been a strength once again. Lockett is an explosive returner while Steven Hauschka made 29-of-31 FG attempts.The Panthers may have made clutch plays on both sides of the ball nearly every week, but they have not been effective with their coverage teams. Graham Gano is a good but not great kicker who made 30-of-36 FG attempts.
There will be significant pressure on the Panthers to come through in the postseason. The Seahawks are formidable opponents, but look for Newton to come through with the decisive plays when the game is on the line. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports