If it sometimes feels as if the Carolina Panthers are in the NFC West, well, there’s reason for that.
The Seahawks and Panthers have been regular foes this decade, and their Week 15 game Sunday morning will be their 10th meeting since 2010 — and the Seahawks’ sixth trip to Charlotte this decade.
Overall, the Seahawks are 7-2 against the Panthers under Pete Carroll. That includes a 4-0 record in Charlotte during the regular season.
Their lone loss there came in the playoffs in January 2016, when they fell behind 31-0 at halftime before falling 31-24.
The Seahawks, who opened as a 5½-point favorite this week, will try for a franchise-record seventh road victory this Sunday in Charlotte.
Five things to know about the Panthers this week:
1. The end of an era
Ron Rivera was fired last Tuesday, an abrupt ending for him after nearly a decade as the Panthers’ coach.
“This is as bad a day as I’ve been a part of in the NFL,” veteran tight end Greg Olsen told the Charlotte Observer after Rivera’s dismissal.
Things didn’t get any better without Rivera on Sunday for the Panthers, who played perhaps their worst game of the season in a 40-20 defeat in Atlanta.
It was the fifth consecutive loss for Carolina (5-8), which has been eliminated from the playoffs.
“We’re all fighting for our jobs,” interim coach Perry Fewell said.
After the game, second-year cornerback Donte Jackson called out Carolina’s defensive coaching staff for “two horrible calls” that he said led directly to two Atlanta touchdowns.
“I can speak for the whole locker room: We apologize for the performance we’ve been having,” veteran defensive lineman Gerald McCoy told reporters in the Panthers locker room. “We’re on a skid. How do you right your wrongs? Beat Seattle. It can be done.”
2. Kyle Allen to start against the Seahawks
When the Panthers lost star QB Cam Newton to a season-ending foot injury in September, they found immediate success with second-year backup Kyle Allen.
The Panthers won Allen’s first four starts, during which the 6-foot-3, 210-pound rookie out of the University of Houston threw seven touchdowns without an interception.
Things have turned dramatically in the past five weeks. Allen has a 7-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in those five losses, and he has been sacked 24 times in the last five games — losing three fumbles in that stretch.
There had been some speculation that the Panthers might turn to another rookie — Will Grier, a third-round pick out of West Virginia — but Fewell said Monday that he would stick with Allen as the starter against the Seahawks.
Fewell said the quarterback situation will be evaluated week to week but he still believes Allen gives the team the best chance to win. Allen will start this week.
3. What about Newton’s future?
It’s been newsworthy week for Newton already.
On Monday, Newton reportedly had surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury in his foot. The former MVP reportedly expects to be healthy by the spring.
Who might he be playing for then? It could be a new team.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported Sunday that “the expectation is that the Panthers will attempt to trade Newton this offseason provided they can get a large deal to make it worth their while.”
Newton is scheduled to earn about $21 million in 2020, according to Spotrac.com, the final year of a five-year, $103.8-million extension he signed in 2015.
4. Monster year for Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey, the former Stanford star, leads the NFL in total touches, with 332, total touchdowns, with 16, and total yards from scrimmage, with 1,946 — which is 450 yards more than the next player on the list (Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette).
There was some chatter midseason about McCaffrey as an MVP candidate, but that has cooled off as Carolina’s losses have mounted.
McCaffrey has been held to 70 yards or less on the ground in each of the past four games, but he remains a major factor in the passing game. He has 86 catches for 726 yards and four TDs this season, and he’s been targeted 48 times in the last four games.
5. Ex-Husky gets four-year extension in Carolina
Former UW linebacker Shaq Thompson, the 25th pick in the 2015 draft, last week signed a four-year extension to keep him in Carolina through 2023. The deal is worth $54.2 million, according to the Observer, with a max value of $57 million.
His new deal includes $28 million guaranteed.
“It was worth the wait,” Thompson said, via the Observer. “I’m probably having one of my best years, playing all these games and I’m having fun with it. Even though things are not going good right now, I’m still playing out there with pride.”
The 25-year-old Thompson, on pace to start every game for the first time in his career, has 103 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and three sacks.
His new deal comes six weeks after his mother, Patty, died on Oct. 20 at age 57. She passed away in her sleep shortly after she watched a Panthers game at her home in Sacramento, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Thompson said last week that he knows his mom is “up there happy” about his new deal.
Correction: A previous version of this story said Kyle Allen is a rookie.