Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll likes the familiar challenge of facing Carolina in an NFC Divisional playoff game next Sunday. But this year, the roles are reversed.
MINNEAPOLIS — The way Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman sees it, Seattle’s divisional playoff game at Carolina next week will be getting “back to normality.’’
Sherman meant it mostly in regards to the minus 6 degrees that greeted the Seahawks during their 10-9 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings in a NFC wild-card playoff game. The early forecast is for a relatively balmy 50 degree next Sunday in Charlotte, N.C.
But for the Seahawks, playing the Carolina Panthers has almost become a norm in itself.
Seattle has played Carolina once in the regular season every year but one since 2010, and last year had to beat the Panthers in the same NFC divisional round on their way to the Super Bowl.
Seattle won that game in Seattle, 31-17, sparked by Kam Chancellor’s 90-yard interception return. The Seahawks were the favored team and No. 1 seed in that game.
But now it’s Carolina in that role after a 15-1 season that began with 14 consecutive victories, allowing the Panthers a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
One of this season’s victories came in Seattle, a 27-23 triumph that came thanks to two 80-yard drives in the fourth quarter. The Panthers scored the winning touchdown with 32 seconds left.
“We have been in this place before and played some tough games against these guys,’’ said Seattle coach Pete Carroll. “They’ve had an incredible season. They made it look easy. They had so many dominant games on both sides of the ball.
“We’re just going to Carolina and we’re going to go (with) everything we can to see if we can slow them and find a way to move the football on a great football team. And they’re well-rested and all that. We know how good of an advantage it is to be at home after a break, so we’re going to have to play great football.’’
The Panthers mirror the Seahawks stylistically in many ways, including having one of the NFL’s best running quarterbacks (Russell Wilson for the Seahawks, Cam Newton for the Panthers), a stout defense (Seahawks were first in points allowed at 17.3 and the Panthers sixth at 19.3) and offenses that like to run (the Panthers threw just 50.42 percent of the time this season, 31st in the NFL while the Seahawks were at 51.69 percent, 29th).
Carolina also feasted on a plus-20 turnover ratio this season — six more than any other team in the NFL — led by 39 takeaways, six more than any other NFL team,
Those were key factors in Carolina leading the NFL in scoring this season at 31.3 points per game despite being 11th in total offense at 366.9.
“It’s going to be fun,’’ said Sherman. “It’s always a fun one when you play Carolina. It’s going to be a physical game. It’s going to be back and forth. Both teams are going to run it. Both teams are going to hit each other in the mouth and we’ll see who is standing in the end.’’
For the Seahawks, the No. 6 NFC seed, it will be a second road playoff game in two weeks. The postseason will require three consecutive road victories to earn a repeat trip to the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks also know they will almost certainly have to play better than they did Sunday against the Vikings. They gained just 226 yards Sunday and needed Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh to miss a 27-yard field-goal attempt with 26 seconds remaining.
“Sometimes it takes a challenge like this, a struggle like this, to bring a team together,’’ Sherman said.