Think you're already familiar with the Seahawks' next foe? The Panthers, the NFC's No. 1 seed, lost just one game in the regular season, which included a win over Seattle in Week 6. Here's a look at the key players, early betting line and series history.
Game time: 10:05 a.m. Sunday.
TV: Fox (Ch. 13).
2015 record: 15-1.
By the numbers
Points scored per game by the Panthers offense, most in the NFL.
Touchdowns thrown by quarterback Cam Newton, one shy of the team record set in 1999 by Steve Beuerlein.
Regular-season wins, most in Carolina history.
Coach: Ron Rivera.
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The series: The Seahawks lead it 7-3, having won both previous playoff matchups between the teams — including the 2005 NFC Championship Game and in last year’s divisional round. Carolina did, however, defeat Seattle 27-23 at CenturyLink Field in October.
Early line: Panthers by 2½ points.
QB Cam Newton: The frontrunner for this year’s NFL Most Valuable Player award nearly doubled his total touchdowns from a season ago, throwing for 35 and adding 10 more on the ground. Newton cut down on his turnovers, as well, making the leap into the dual-threat defensive nightmare he’d only shown glimpses of before. The raw stats are impressive enough: 3,837 passing yards, 636 rushing yards, a quarterback rating of 99.4.
CB Josh Norman: Carolina’s fast-talking, feather-ruffling defensive back has established himself as one of the premium shutdown corners in the game. Best known for the on-field beef with New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham last month that spun out of control, the fourth-year cornerback out of Coastal Carolina already had proven himself against some of the league’s top wideouts. According to Pro Football Focus, Norman held Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson and T.Y. Hilton to a total of 72 yards on 19 targets. Most relevant to Sunday’s matchup, Norman limited Seattle’s Doug Baldwin to three catches and 23 yards in October.
TE Greg Olsen: Defending tight ends often has felt like the Seahawks defense’s Achilles’ heel this season. Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph led the would-have-been winning drive in Minnesota on Sunday. Olsen had more receiving yards in the regular season than any other tight end besides New England’s Rob Gronkowski. Olsen also, Seahawks fans might remember, broke free behind a confused secondary for the late go-ahead touchdown in the October matchup.
LB Luke Kuechly: Statistically, Carolina’s defense is very good, if not quite great. The Panthers finished sixth in the NFL in scoring defense (surrendering 19.2 points per game) and yardage against (322.9). What Carolina excels at is forcing turnovers. This unit led the league in interceptions (24), and no other team forced more fumbles (22) or recovered more of them (15). The Panthers are opportunistic and aggressive, and that starts with their three-time All-Pro middle linebacker. Kuechly sets the tone, and the rest of the defense follows.
Carolina’s keys to success: For the Panthers to have a chance in last year’s divisional round at CenturyLink, Newton had to be perfect. He completed 23 of 36 passes and threw for two touchdowns, but his two interceptions and a fumble did in the Panthers. This time around, the pressure no longer is solely on Newton. Carolina’s defense is good enough to throw Seattle offense off-balance, especially if Marshawn Lynch is another late scratch and Norman is able to put the clamps on Baldwin. Newton and the offense have held up their share of the bargain all year long. If they can get on the board early, if the Seahawks have to press like they did last weekend in Minnesota, the Panthers will have the defending NFC champs right where they want them.