The Seattle Seahawks are scheduled to host the Carolina Panthers in what could turn out to be the most lopsided game of the NFL’s Divisional Playoff Weekend. The defending champs were 4.5 games better than their opponent in the regular season, and there’s a good chance that will be reflected in Saturday’s final score.
The two teams played a close game when they met in the regular season, but the same isn’t expected for their rematch. Carolina is the biggest underdog of the second round, getting 11 points at Las Vegas casinos. Even though they are playing well and coming off a victory over the 11-win Arizona Cardinals, the Panthers could be in for a rude awakening when they visit the Seahawks.
Below are three reasons why Seattle will win big over Carolina in their 2015 playoff game.
Legion of Boom
Seattle’s pass defense has been the most dominant part of the league’s best team. The unit lived up to its nickname last season, leading the team to a Super Bowl title, and it was just about as good in 2014. Since losing three of their first six games, the Seahawks haven't allowed any quarterback to have much success.
Since Seattle beat Carolina in Week 8, Alex Smith’s 87.5 passer rating was the highest that any quarterback registered against the Seahawks. However, Smith wasn’t asked to do much, completing just 11 passes for 108 yards and no scores. In that time, Seattle has allowed five touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, including four picks by Richard Sherman. With players like Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner and Byron Maxwell finally healthy, the Seahawks are extremely difficult to move the ball against.
An improved pass rush has certainly helped the secondary play even better. The Seahawks have 24 sacks during their six-game winning streak, after recording just 13 sacks in the previous 10 games. Being able to get to the quarterback and shut down opposing wide receivers has helped the team allow no more than 14 points during their winning streak, as well as seven points or fewer in five of those contests.
Carolina’s Easy Schedule
The Panthers’ winning streak is almost as long as the Seahawks’, as Carolina has won five games in a row, including their first-round victory over Arizona. The NFC South champs bounced back from a slow start to recover from a 3-8-1 record, but the manner in which they did it might be deceiving.
Carolina reached the playoffs by winning one of the worst divisions in league history and beating up on losing teams in December. After defeating the Detroit Lions in Week 2, the Panthers had no success against the most difficult part of their schedule, failing to win any of their six games with teams that finished the year above .500. Carolina averaged just 15 points per game against top 10 defenses, and allowed an average of 39.5 points per game against the top four offenses they faced.
Even in their playoff win, the Panthers beat a starting quarterback that might not be good enough to be in the league. Based on their performance against good teams, Saturday’s game could be over by the early part of the second half. When Carolina loses, they usually lose big, with six of their eight defeats coming by at least 18 points.
The 12th Man
The Seahawks didn’t finish the regular season with the NFL’s best home record, losing to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6. While two other teams have yet to lose in their own stadium this season, Seattle is recognized by many as having the best home-field advantage in all of football.
Since the 2012 season, the Seahawks have gone 25-2 at CenturyLink Field, including three playoff games. Seattle is so good at home that in last year’s Super Bowl run, oddsmakers awarded the team 3.5 points at home, compared to the 2.5 points home teams are usually given. The Panthers earned three road wins in 2014, and did so against teams that were a combined 6-18 at home.
Seattle has beaten some of the league’s best teams at home. They trounced the Green Bay Packers by 20 points in the season opener, and gave the Denver Broncos one of their four losses two weeks later. In their last four home games, the Seahawks have won by an average of over 15 points per game, beating all their opponents by double digits.