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Seahawks RB Chris Carson
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Moore: Seahawks should be able to run on Panthers, but defense still a concern

Seahawks RB Chris Carson will be a handful for the Panthers' 29th-ranked run defense. (Getty)

On the surface, the Seahawks should beat the Panthers in Charlotte on Sunday. If that happens, they can sit back and see if the Cowboys can beat the Rams and clinch a playoff spot for them. And see if the Falcons can upset the 49ers and put them back into first place in the NFC West.

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Simply put, the Seahawks at 10-3 are five games better than the 5-8 Panthers. The Seahawks have won five of their last six games while Carolina has lost five in a row. There’s a huge difference at quarterback with future Hall of Famer Russell Wilson far outdistancing Kyle Allen, who started the season as a rookie backup to Cam Newton and has thrown eight interceptions during the five-game losing streak.

You look at the Panthers’ defense and think it should be good, but it’s not. Carolina has recorded 47 sacks, second in the league to Pittsburgh’s 48, but its run defense is 29th, allowing 17 rushing touchdowns and 5.7 yards per carry the last eight games.

It’s a perfect setup for Chris Carson to run for more than 100 yards, and it’s also an ideal spot for C.J. Prosise and Travis Homer to have a positive impact with a handful of carries. Maybe I’m oversimplifying things, but if you ask me, I’d rather see Russell Wilson handing the ball to Carson over and over again rather than dropping back to pass. I’d like to see him attempt 20 passes at most and limit his exposure to that ferocious Panthers’ pass rush.

The Seahawks are favored by six points, but history tells us that games between these two teams in Charlotte typically go down to the wire. The Seahawks have won the last four regular-season meetings by an average of four points.

But this time around, the Panthers will be without Newton, who hasn’t played since the second game of the season and recently had surgery on his injured foot. And they haven’t seemed to have responded well to the firing of coach Ron Rivera last week – the Panthers were thumped 40-20 by the Falcons last week.

Yet I still have respect for the Panthers’ potential. They have some standout players who haven’t put it together collectively. You’ve heard the names: Luke Kuechly, Bruce Irvin, Mario Addison, Eric Reid and Shaq Thompson on defense; Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen and D.J. Moore on offense. McCaffrey has racked up nearly 2,000 yards combined in rushing and receiving yardage, and Moore is one of the best receivers in the league with 78 catches for 1,061 yards through 13 games.

Plus as much as I think the Seahawks could win in decisive fashion, I’m hesitant because of injuries and a lackluster defense. Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) could miss his second straight game. Shaquill Griffin (hamstring) could miss his first, and your guess is as good as mine who would replace him at left corner. Jadeveon Clowney wasn’t himself in last Sunday’s loss to the Rams and could be compromised the rest of the year by a sports hernia.

Even at full strength, this defense isn’t great. Know what I’ve been thinking about lately? We talk about Bobby Wagner being a Pro Bowl linebacker. We think that K.J. Wright still has it. We think Kendricks has had a good season. We like Griffin and Tre Flowers at the cornerback spots, and we’re convinced that Quandre Diggs has improved the defense since he took over as a starter at free safety four games ago. With Clowney, we know he’s a terrific player when healthy, but the rest of the defensive line? Not so much – the Seahawks have gone 10 quarters without a sack.

Statistically, this defense isn’t even close to average. Average in the NFL would be 16th in the league. The Seahawks are 26th in total defense. The only teams they’re ahead of have losing records. It’s like we try to talk ourselves into thinking the defense is good when it isn’t. Again, when you look at the stats, they’re right where they were before Diggs stepped on the field, ranking 29th in pass defense.

The offense did not have a touchdown in the 28-12 loss to the Rams, raising concerns, but I think they’ll be fine against the Panthers. That’s especially the case if Tyler Lockett is really, really back from the flu and his shin injury as opposed to sort-of back, as appeared to be the case the last four games. Lockett has just six receptions for 107 yards over that stretch.

After the Rams game, the Seahawks look more like a wild-card team than a division winner, but that could be an outlier too. Even if it’s not, they still have enough firepower to hand the Panthers their sixth loss in a row.

Prediction: Seahawks 28, Panthers 20.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jim Moore on Twitter.

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