The Hit Job editors Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the Divisional playoff matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (11–6) and the Carolina Panthers (15–1).
When: 10:05 a.m. PT Sunday, Jan. 17
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Rogers: Another playoff game, another rematch. This one, of course, went the other way the first time around. I doubt there is anyone that thinks the rested and nearly perfect Panthers do not represent a stiffer test than the Minnesota Vikings. Consider the ante upped.
While the Seahawks revealed a few troubling characteristics in the first round of the playoffs — errant passes, anemic scoring, inefficient third-down conversions (5–14), time of possession deficit and more penalties committed than the opponent — much of these factors might be excused by the atrociously cold weather. Still, safety Kam Chancellor nearly cost the Seahawks the game on the last drive of the game with an illegal contact penalty, followed by a blown tackle on Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph on the subsequent play.
Jess, is last week’s performance just an aberration, or should the 12s be concerned about how the Seahawks have performed twice in the past three games?
Ridpath: There’s no objective way to measure the impact of last week’s weather on Seattle’s performance. But I’m not inclined to fault the extreme cold for their less-than-hot showing in Minnesota.
I am, however, inclined to give luck its due. Let’s face it: the Vikings should have won that game. And until Blair Walsh’s potentially game-winning chip shot sailed wide, I was certain the Seahawks’ season was over. It was clear in the seconds before that play that the team that performed better was about to win.
Until they didn’t. Blame it on the cold, or the hold, or the threat of Richard Sherman, you have to think that simple bad luck played a role. I bet Walsh makes that shot 99 times out of 100. It’s heartbreaking when the one time you miss costs your team their season. The poor guy was sobbing in the locker room after the loss — and to his credit, he openly took the blame for the miss.
Honestly, I hated seeing the game end that way. And I hate having to chalk up the Seahawks victory to luck, even though I predicted they would win.
But enough ranting. To answer your question, yes, 12s everywhere should be concerned. While I would be the first to assert that the Seahawks are capable of beating the Panthers on Sunday, their erratic play of late does not fill me with confidence. It’s impossible to predict which version of the Seahawks will show up — or whether Marshawn Lynch will be ready and willing to play.
Julian, Carolina safety Roman Harper has gotten a lot of press for claiming the Panthers are the better team. In terms of talent and season stats, the teams mirror each other in many ways. But the Panthers have certainly been more consistent this season. Is there any reason why we shouldn’t all agree with Harper?
Rogers: Well, yes. Here’s one: his teammate, Josh Norman, thinks the Seahawks are the best. Referring to the Seahawks, Norman said, “… if you want to be the best, then go beat the best.” So, let’s let them fight it out.
Truthfully, “who’s best” between these two teams is about to be decided in a matter of days. The boasting and the talking doesn’t interest me much. What I think will determine this game — and one team’s fate — are the matchups.
The matchup I have my eye on the most is Norman covering Doug Baldwin. Last week, the Wilson-Baldwin connection mostly fizzled. As I hinted above, I attribute this to the sub-zero weather. This week, the weather forecast will be positively Seattle-ish.
The last time these two foes met, in week six in Seattle, Baldwin was held to three catches for 23 yards. If recent history portends a repeat, the Seahawks’ second-half offensive resurgence will die in Charlotte. Baldwin must find success against Norman and the rest of the stout Panthers secondary or the high-flying Seahawks will revert to the inconsistent first-half-of-the-season offense that saw the blue birds drop games to teams nowhere near the equal of the NFC’s #1 seed.
Another important if indirect matchup are the defenses. Rarely do the Panthers enter a game against an opponent with a better defense than they have. Seattle maintains a slight edge in this regard in all phases. The Panthers offense, it should be noted, led the league in scoring — including putting up 27 points in Seattle.
Jess, what matchups do you think will most determine this Divisional round playoff rematch?
Ridpath: Carolina won the week six battle for two key reasons:
- Seattle’s offensive line was leaky, and the Panthers’ front seven took advantage — blitzing Wilson on close to half of his dropbacks and sacking him four times.
- The Legion of Boom had no answer for tight end Greg Olson — who had seven catches for 131 yards, including the game winning touchdown.
The blown zone coverage that left Olson all alone in the end zone with thirty seconds remaining in the game left Seattle’s famed secondary looking embarrassed and confused. No doubt they are heading into this rematch determined to prove they can bottle up Cam Newton’s favorite target. Olson also blew by Seattle’s single coverage, especially former Seahawks cornerback Cary Williams (since released). This time around, we’ll see DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane in the mix. Let’s hope they’ve watched a lot of tape.
Another personnel difference that could be important in the rematch is that Carolina didn’t have to face Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner in week six. Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart kept the chains moving by combining for 108 of the Panthers’ 135 rushing yards in that game. With Wagner on the field, repeating that level of on-the-ground production will be a much taller order.
Additionally, if Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett can harass Newton early in the game, Seattle’s defense seems well equipped to give Russell Wilson and Co. a fighting chance. Which brings me back to that leaky offensive line.
There’s a reason I focused on the blue birds’ defense in my answer: I just don’t know what to say about the offense. When the O-line is on, Seattle can beat any team in the league. When they’re not, the Seahawks have to rely on Wilson’s heroics and another team’s bad luck.
Julian, I recall your complaint earlier in the year when you accused me of talking you out of picking the Panthers in their first meeting with the Seahawks. Are you going to be so easily swayed again?
Rogers: This feels like a set up. You’re baiting me again, aren’t you? Last time, you claimed the Panthers “hadn’t beaten anybody.” Now, uh, I’d like to see you make that claim again. They’ve beaten everyone. I mean, everyone — including four teams in the playoffs. Even the team they lost to in their single blemish, the Atlanta Falcons, they beat 38–0 when they played them at home.
Home is going to be a decided advantage for the rested and talented Panthers this weekend. Their spotless home record clearly trumps the Seahawks’ certainly-not-shabby 6–3 road record. After last week, it is hard to argue that the Seahawks are not playing with a lucky horseshoe lodged deep in Pete Carroll’s nether regions, which presages another magical playoff odyssey. But I think the magical season is going to end in Charlotte. This will go down to the wire with two teams that are in many ways mirror images of each other (yes, I do listen to you, still), but one team has been more consistent from beginning to end. Give the edge to the cats. Prediction: Carolina 23, Seattle 20.
Ridpath: Let’s take an objective look back at what I did to influence your week six prediction: I simply pointed to stats that clearly showed the Panthers hadn’t faced a high-caliber opponent in the first five weeks of the season (which included victories over Jacksonville, Houston, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay, along with a bye). It was a logical argument at the time.
The view from the post-season provides a much fuller perspective, however, and no one in their right mind would try to assert at this point that Carolina isn’t the real deal. So I have to wonder: Are you trying to goad me into picking the Seahawks again so you can even the score?
Well, guess what? I am going to pick the Seahawks, even though I’m convinced that the Panthers have proven themselves to be the best team in the NFC. Why? Because, as my dad always says when I beat him at poker, “It’s better to be lucky than good.”
Call it magic or call it luck (but please don’t call it “a lucky horseshoe lodged deep in Pete Carroll’s nether regions” … I’m still trying to shake that visual), if the voodoo that led to Seattle’s win over the Vikings follows them to Carolina, the best team in the NFC won’t make it to the conference championship. I’m inclined to think the voodoo has wings. Prediction: Seattle 27, Carolina 24.
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.
What he got right: The game winner (barely). I’m 11–6 on the season. Wilson clearly lost control of several passes he would normally make in non-barbaric conditions, which I suggested would be the case. It was, as I stated, a defense’s dream scenario.
What he got wrong: Scoring was even harder to come by than I thought. While there were turnovers, I expected a few more than the two total (one by each team). Seattle also fumbled two more times, but recovered. Minnesota’s lone fumble was fatal.
What she got right: The game winner, which puts me at 12–4. But it seems silly to take credit for this prediction, since it was really more of a non-loss than a win. I also predicted Seattle’s defense would stifle Adrian Peterson for a second time, and they did (45 yards on 23 carries).
What she got wrong: I said that the Seahawks would need to score early and demonstrate that the wheels were on if they wanted to win the game. On offense, the wheels were decidedly off for the first three quarters of the game — yet they still managed a victory. On the Vikings’ side, Teddy Bridgewater performed better than I expected he would (146 passing yards with no interceptions).
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