When you’re trying to come up with a list of the Seahawks’ biggest rivals, the Panthers are on it, I’m just not sure where. I don’t even know who’s No. 1 anymore – maybe it’s the Rams or the Packers. Some 12’s probably still dislike the 49ers, and I’m guessing if the Seahawks played the Steelers more often, Pittsburgh would be on the list too.
Even though they’re in the NFC South, the Panthers merit consideration because the Seahawks have played them over and over again. From 2012 to 2016, it was every year. They’ve also met in the playoffs three times, once for the NFC Championship at then-Qwest Field in 2006.
Then there are the similarities with the running and passing quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, along with the running offenses and strong defenses. Plus with Newton, the Panthers have a polarizing player that opposing fan bases can appreciate but easily dislike. That can fuel a rivalry too.
With this game being played in Charlotte Sunday morning, it reminds me of the stretch of low-scoring games the Seahawks played there from 2012-14, winning each time by scores of 16-12, 12-7 and 13-9. I’m expecting another low-scoring game in 2018 with both teams featuring solid running games that figure to keep the clock moving throughout.
By kickoff, the Seahawks will have had 10 days off since they beat the Packers 27-24 to put themselves back in the middle of the NFC wild-card playoff race. At 5-5, they’re in good shape, just behind the current teams in the wild-card spots – Carolina at 6-4 and Washington at 6-5. Minnesota’s right there, too, at 5-4-1.
A win over the Panthers would tie them with Carolina and Washington at 6-5 and put them in great position to improve their chances in the next three weeks with two games against San Francisco.
Oddsmakers favor the Panthers by 3 1/2, giving Carolina the edge at home, and it’s easy to understand why. The Panthers are 1-4 on the road and 5-0 at home. And as much as you want to think the Panthers are in a downward trend coming off losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit, they’re still unbeaten at home.
Here’s another thing to consider: their running game, led by Christian McCaffrey, might have a better day than the league’s best rushing team, the Seahawks. I say that because Carolina averages 5 yards a carry, and Seattle’s run defense ranks 28th in the NFL, allowing 4.9 yards a carry. Overall, the Seahawks’ run D is 17th in league, and Carolina’s is eighth.
The key for Seattle is to get in front early and hope that Newton goes into a funk, which is often the case. I don’t think that will happen, though. He’s completing a career-high 68 percent of his passes, and complicating the Seahawks’ chances of disrupting him, Newton has been sacked only 20 times this year.
It figures to be a back-and-forth battle, but I’ll go with Carolina in a close one. Panthers 17, Seahawks 16.