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Clayton: Seahawks-Panthers matchup of teams heading different directions

Russell Wilson's Seahawks are looking for their second win at Carolina in as many years. (Getty)

The Seahawks close out their road schedule Sunday, visiting the Carolina Panthers.

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A year ago, the Seahawks had to rally in the fourth quarter to pull out a close win against the Panthers in Charlotte. Cam Newton played well. So did Russell Wilson. Since then, though, things have gone well for the Seahawks and poorly for the Panthers.

After the loss to the Seahawks, Newton’s shoulder problems got so bad he couldn’t get the ball downfield. He finished the 2018 season with six straight losses before sitting out Week 17. This year he opened the season with two losses. The shoulder was fine, but he wasn’t.

Newton developed a foot injury that turned out to be a Lisfranc injury that ended his season. Second-year QB Kyle Allen came off the bench and won five of six games, but now he’s on a five-game losing streak while the Seahawks are fighting for a playoff spot with an impressive 10-3 record.

Let’s look at two franchises going in different directions.

• Last week’s 16-point loss for the Seahawks to the Los Angeles Rams is now an afterthought. Pete Carroll wants to use the experience to keep the team mentally sharp for the final three games. Once again in the Rams game, the Seahawks made costly mistakes and communication miscues.

The Panthers game and next week’s home game against Arizona are winnable for Seattle. The Seahawks can’t take the Panthers for granted because they have talent. They also have the most complete running back in the league in Christian McCaffrey.

• At 5-8, the Panthers are at the stage in which they can start games out well, but if things go wrong, they could start falling apart. Last week, they lost to the Atlanta Falcons 40-20. Where the Seahawks are good at overcoming adversity and winning games in the second half, the Panthers have lost that touch.

Perry Fewell is in his second game as the interim coach of the Panthers after the firing of Ron Rivera. At some point, Fewell may start playing some of the younger players because the Panthers are out of the playoff race and looking toward next season.

• Despite the loss of Rashaad Penny for the season with an ACL tear, the Seahawks should be able to run the ball. The Panthers are giving up 137.5 yards a game rushing and 5.3 yards a carry. C.J. Prosise should take over as the backup to Chris Carson, but the plan would be to pound the ball with Carson.

Carson will most likely get his 18 to 20 carries. Prosise might get six to eight unless he gets hot. Getting hot would get him some extra carries. The Seahawks could also take a look at rookie Travis Homer, who is looking for his first NFL carry (besides a fake punt run) but has been a core group player on special team.

• Russell Wilson’s numbers have been a little off in the past four games, but you have to figure he will make it a point to get the ball to wide receiver Tyler Lockett, whose numbers have fallen in the past three weeks. First, he had a bad shin injury. The next game he had to flu. Wilson needs Lockett to get the ball so he can look like a No. 1 receiver again.

• This is the type of game in which Wilson could try to get more action to Josh Gordon. Gordon has been getting open on some slant passes but he might get more downfield opportunities in the passing game. Gordon has expressed a desire to return to Seattle next season.

• What the Seahawks have to watch out for is the Panthers’ pass rush. That’s the one thing the Panthers do well. They have 50 sacks, and when they were 5-3 they were on pace to challenge for the league’s all-time sack record. Wilson has been sacked 40 times this year and that takes a toll.

• The Seahawks got a break when they found out Friday that Carolina tight end Greg Olsen won’t be able to play because of a concussion. The Seahawks have been giving up a lot of passes and yards to tight ends of late.

• The Seahawks won’t have Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) or Jadeveon Clowney (core/illness). They also need to get the four-man rush revived.

• Allen reminds some NFL people of an Andy Dalton-type quarterback. He did exceptional in his first six games, but the mistakes are starting to multiply.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Twitter.

More Seahawks coverage

Mychal Kendricks, Jadeveon Clowney ruled out vs Carolina Panthers
Moore: Hawks should be able to run on Panthers, but D still a concern
O’Neil’s Playoff Watch: Seahawks don’t need to streak into postseason
Russell Wilson shares interesting look into on-field mentality
Heaps: WR Josh Gordon needs snaps over role players

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