The Seattle Seahawks begin their Super Bowl title defense against a confident and streaking Carolina Panthers squad in Saturday’s NFC Divisional Round matchup at CenturyLink Field. In a battle of two of the NFL’s best rushing attacks, and two of its most athletic and powerful quarterbacks, the Seahawks are 12-point favorites, the largest margin in the postseason so far.
Seattle (12-4) enters the matchup on a streak of its own, winning six straight games and humming on both sides of the ball. The Seahawks haven’t allowed a touchdown in 10 straight quarters, and no opponent has scored more than 14 points during the streak. In turn, Seattle has scored 55 total points in its last two games.
The Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton have won five straight, their longest streak since the won eight straight from week 6 to week 13 last season. The only team to make the postseason with a losing record, Carolina (7-8-1) needed to close out the regular season with four consecutive wins in order to claim the NFC South, and last week Newton earned his first playoff win by besting Arizona 27-16.
Carolina, boasting the No. 7 rushing offense in the league, gained 188 yards on the ground against Arizona, the majority of which came from running back Jonathan Stewart. After battling injuries through the first two-thirds of the season and sharing carries with DeAngleo Williams, Stewart exploded for 524 yards and two touchdowns in the last five games, at 5.1 yards per carry.
Against Arizona, Newton would complete 18 of 32 pass attempts for 198 yards and two touchdowns, and tossed only his second interception in the last four games. Newton's also ripped off 539 rushing yards this season and leads the Panthers with five rushing touchdowns as he and Stewart take on a Seahawks defense ranked third against the rush, allowing 81.5 yards per game.
The Panthers also have some injury concerns on defense. Missing practice all week, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (foot) was ruled out against Seattle, while safety Thomas DeCoud (hamstring), linebacker A.J. Klein (ankle), and cornerback Melvin White (ankle) are all questionable.
Lotulelei’s absence could be the most significant for the Panthers, with Seattle gaining 172.6 rushing yards a game. Quarterback Russell Wilson complemented his 20 passing touchdowns with 849 rushing yards and another six scores on the ground, and running back Marshawn Lynch notched his fourth consecutive, and sixth overall, 1,000-yard rushing campaign.
Another bad omen for the Panthers is the overall good health of Seattle’s defense. Of the 10 players listed on the Seahawks injury report, only second-string strong safety Jeron Johnson (elbow) is listed as out, while tight end Tony Moeaki (calf) remains questionable.
With top defensive backs Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor all healthy, the Panthers pass catchers could be bottled up all game. Tight end Greg Olsen and rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin each racked up 1,008 yards this season, with the latter leading the squad with nine touchdown grabs.
Start Time: 8:15 P.M. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Betting Odds: Seattle -12
Over/Under: 40 points
Prediction: Seattle over Carolina, 38-17