The Carolina Panthers, No. 1 seeds in the NFC, are given a slight edge in predictions by the national media, but it's closer than you'd think.

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The Carolina Panthers, who a few weeks ago appeared poised for an unbeaten regular season, are vulnerable. That’s the theme from national media predictions entering Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the Seahawks.

How vulnerable?

Although more of the so-called experts are picking the Panthers, who have home-field advantage because of their No. 1 NFC seeding and are three-point favorites, most predict a close game. And many media outlets believe the Seahawks will win the 10:05 a.m. contest (Fox, Channel 13).

The Seattle Times quartet covering the game in Charlotte, N.C., are split, with Larry Stone and Jayson Jenks choosing the Seahawks, and Matt Calkins and Bob Condotta giving the edge to the Panthers – barely.

Condotta is torn in picking the Panthers to win by three. He likes the way Seattle finished the season, and doubts Carolina’s near-perfect record.

“Doubts remain about the Panthers despite a 15-1 season,” he wrote. “The Seahawks, meanwhile, finished the regular season with a flourish. Still, though the Seahawks have the experience and pedigree, the Panthers have the home field and the feeling that this might just be their year.”

Stone thinks it could come down to the kickers again this Sunday and picks Seattle by three. “This will be a knock-down, drag-out battle, because that’s what the Seahawks and Panthers do,” he wrote. “And it should go down to the wire, because that’s what the Seahawks do in the playoffs. It will be decided by a Steven Hauschka field goal — and unlike Blair Walsh, he’ll nail it.”

John Breech of agreed: “These two teams are basically mirror images of each other, except at kicker, and if we learned anything from the Seahawks game in Minnesota, it’s that having the more accurate kicker helps, so I guess I’ll take the team with the more accurate kicker (Seahawks Steven Hauschka hit 93.5 percent of his field goals on the season. Panthers kicker Graham Gano only hit 83.3 percent).”

Gary Myers of New York’s Newsday predicts a 24-20 Seahawks win. “Seattle could join the Steelers (2005) and Packers (2010) as the only No. 6 seeds to win the Super Bowl,” he wrote.

Here is a roundup of predictions for Sunday’s game, with links to complete picks for the weekends. We’ll update later this week as more media picks come in.


Split, with two picking each team.

Bob Condotta: Panthers, 24-21 – Doubts remain about the Panthers despite a 15-1 season. The Seahawks, meanwhile, finished the regular season with a flourish. Still, though the Seahawks have the experience and pedigree, the Panthers have the home field and the feeling that this might just be their year.

Jayson Jenks: Seahawks, 21-17 – Out of the teams Panthers QB Cam Newton has faced at least three times in his career, the Seahawks have held Newton to his lowest completion percentage and fewest yards per game. Even in Carolina’s win this season, Newton completed only 56 percent of his passes (his third-lowest percentage this year) and threw two interceptions. In other words, the Seahawks have generally had his number.

Larry Stone: Seahawks, 30-27 – This will be a knock-down, drag-out battle, because that’s what the Seahawks and Panthers do. And it should go down to the wire, because that’s what the Seahawks do in the playoffs. It will be decided by a Steven Hauschka field goal — and unlike Blair Walsh, he’ll nail it.

Matt Calkins: Panthers, 24-23 – This is as close to a pick-’em as you get. But with the home-field advantage, I give the slight edge to a Carolina team that’s stacked on both sides of the ball.


Don Banks: Panthers 23, Seahawks 20 – Quite the draw for the 15–1 Panthers. Seattle has always been a handful for Carolina, and now the Seahawks can ride into Charlotte on the momentum of surviving last Sunday’s near-death experience in the arctic upper Midwest. The Panthers haven’t played a ton of quality teams this season, so their dominance could be a little deceiving. Their road win over the Seahawks in Week 6, after trailing by nine in the fourth quarter, is when Carolina really started looking like a Super Bowl contender. I expect Cam Newton to use Greg Olsen to great effect against a Seattle defense that often gets tormented by tight ends, and to put on an MVP-level performance at home in what should be a frenzied atmosphere. I think it’ll take all day to push Pete Carroll’s proud champions out of the Super Bowl tournament, but Carolina will get it done and its magical season will continue.

Andy Benoit: Seahawks over Panthers – (Cam) Newton’s greatest value remains in the ground game, where he’s either a runner or a significant decoy who forces linebackers and edge defenders to think more and thus play slower. Here the Panthers are also extremely well designed. Their running game, with its myriad pull-blockers, misdirection fakes and option ghost threats, presents more variables than any other in the league. Consider it strength against strength; the Seahawks are outstanding with gap discipline and have the speed to overcome missteps. With middle linebacker Bobby Wagner healthy (he wasn’t in the first meeting), this matchup is even in every facet. …

Overall: I’d say push. But if forced to pick one team, I’d narrowly select the Seahawks.


Three of five pick the Seahawks.

Elliot Harrison: Panthers 23, Seahawks 21 Seahawks at Panthers is easily the toughest game to call on the Divisional Round dockt. Seattle is coming off a gut-check contest that required as much intestinal fortitude as an athlete’s body can handle. Carolina has enjoyed a week of rest, and will be hosting the defending NFC champs in Charlotte. Ron Rivera’s group, it should be noted, hasn’t lost there since November, 2014. Both teams play a physical brand of football that Olivia Newton-John certainly respects. It’s mostly the prospective brutality of the defenses involved — but also the fact that the Seahawks are the league bully and the Panthers carry the NFL’s best record — that has fans all hot and bothered about this matchup.

The most important aspect of SeahawksPanthers is Marshawn Lynch‘s availability. He was a full practice participant on Wednesday, but obviously, as evidenced last week, his status remains uncertain. Let me tell you, if we had a bit more clarity on the bruising RB at publishing, the pick in this one could be different. That said, the fact that Jonathan Stewart appears to be returning to the fold for Carolina is huge — as discussed in this week’s Power Rankings.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s offense has been mostly unstoppable — even with Lynch (and Jimmy Graham) out. That doesn’t mean the ‘Hawks won’t miss Beast Mode; the guy’s averaged 91.7 rushing yards over 10 postseason games for Seattle. Please forgive me if Christine Michael doesn’t elicit as much confidence. What garners football faith in Carolina — besides Cam Newton, of course — is the Panthers‘ defense over the last 11 home games. They’ve allowed a scant 16.5 points per game while boasting a plus-13 turnover differential. Throw in the fact that Riverboat Ron’s D was tops in takeaways this season, and it gets harder to pick the Seahawks. Carolina advances


Ten of 14 pick the Panthers.

Sheil Kapadia: Seahawks 21, Panthers 20 – The Seahawks’ defense has allowed just one touchdown in their past six road games. They are remarkably healthy — all 11 regular starters will be in uniform — and played well down the stretch. Offensively, the Seahawks could have trouble running the ball and protecting Russell Wilson. These two teams always play close games, but Pete Carroll’s group finds a way and moves on to the NFC title game.

David Newton: Panthers 23, Seahawks 17 – I’m going to side with Carolina safety Roman Harper on this one when he said the Panthers “are the better team.” They proved that with a 15-1 regular-season record that included a 27-23 victory at Seattle in October. That came in large part because the Seahawks couldn’t cover tight end Greg Olsen, who had seven catches for 131 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Olsen will be a big factor again. That this one is in Charlotte, where Carolina has won 11 straight, will be a bigger factor. Panthers 23, Seahawks 17.


Five of seven pick the Seahawks.


John Breech: Seahawks 23, Panthers 20 – When these two teams played each other back in Week 6, I predicted a 20-13 Seahawks win. That’s not what happened though, instead, Cam Newton laughed in my face and threw a touchdown pass to Greg Olsen with under 30 seconds left to seal a 27-23 Panthers win.

Basically, what happened at the time, is that I underestimated the Panthers offense. I’m not going to do that this time though. I’m going to take into account the fact that Cam Newton is unstoppable. However, so is Russell Wilson, so they kind of cancel each other out — and, if anyone can stop Wilson, it’s a Panthers defense that finished the 2015 season ranked sixth overall in the NFL. On the other hand, if anyone can stop Newton, it’s a Seahawks defense that finished the season ranked second overall. Crap, I guess the defenses kind of cancel each other out, too.

These two teams are basically mirror images of each other, except at kicker, and if we learned anything from the Seahawks game in Minnesota, it’s that having the more accurate kicker helps, so I guess I’ll take the team with the more accurate kicker (Seahawks Steven Hauschka hit 93.5 percent of his field goals on the season. Panthers kicker Graham Gano only hit 83.3 percent).


Vinnie Iyer: Seahawks 31, Panthers 27 – The Seahawks clearly know how to do enough to win. The offense was held in check by the Vikings, except when Russell Wilson was improvising brilliantly on the biggest play of the day. The defense was vulnerable at critical times during the season, but did everything necessary to put them in position to get very lucky at the end. That resourcefulness and resilience are the difference between winning and losing in the playoffs. The Panthers will find out, after their  brilliant season, whether they have it themselves. Chances are they do, but the Seahawks do it better.


Neil Greenberg: Seahawks over Panthers  (Using efficiency stats and math formulas) — This one has upset written all over it.

Seattle finished as the top team in Football Outsiders’ overall Defense-adjusted Value Over Average and their quarterback, Russell Wilson, ended the season with 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns, producing the fourth highest Total Quarterback Rating (74.9) in 2015.

The Panthers have stellar cornerback Josh Norman (league-low 54.0 passer rating against in primary coverage), but he might not match up against the Seahawks’ most prolific receiving threat, Doug Baldwin (1.069 yards and 14 touchdowns). In fact, the Panthers’ secondary is nicked up enough that Wilson might be able to avoid Norman all together.

Winner: Seattle Seahawks, 57.0 percent

Pick: Seattle Seahawks +2.5


Gary Myers: Seahawks 24, Panthers 20 – Carolina is the most unlikely near-undefeated team in NFL history. Newton had a tremendous season, (35 TDs, 10 INTs and 636 yards rushing), but he has limited offensive weapons other than tight end Greg Olson.

Although the Legion of Boom is not quite as feared as it was two years ago, don’t expect Ted Ginn or Jerricho Cotchery to do much damage. This game is completely on Newton and the Panthers defense.

Wilson will never make up for his Super Bowl end zone interception last year and if Walsh didn’t miss the field goal, his inability to generate any offense in the arctic conditions of Minnesota would have also gone on his resume. But he turned his very athletic scoop of a botched shotgun snap into a 35-yard completion to Tyler Lockette to set up the Seahawks only TD.

Seattle could join the Steelers (2005) and Packers (2010) as the only No. 6 seeds to win the Super Bowl. Will Marshawn Lynch play? He’s been out since Nov. 15, had abdominal surgery on Nov. 25 and until he told the team Friday he couldn’t play against the Vikings, they expected him on the team plane.


Dennis Manoloff: Seahawks 24. Panthers 20 – The NFL (read: Minnesota) needed to turn off the lights on the Seahawks when it had the chance. The no-fear Seahawks not only cover, they win outright, in part because the Panthers play tight.

“INSIDE THE NFL” (Showtime)

Split, with two picking each team.


Panthers over Seahawks – Computer On Sunday, Seattle again travels east to play the early game. Last year, Seattle won at Carolina by 4 during the regular season and had a more favorable re-match by playing and winning the playoff game at home. Carolina gets the opportunity to do likewise this year, winning in Seattle by 4 and now coming home in the playoffs to try and sweep the season. Carolina led the league in scoring while Seattle allowed the fewest points, making this a proverbial ‘unstoppable force versus immovable object’ game. In this case, the immovable object is less rested and possibly still thawing out from wild card week  — Carolina gets the nod in this re-match.


Panthers over Seahawks – Carolina is given a 55 percent chance of winning.


Four of seven pick the Panthers.


Six of eight pick the Panthers.

Mike Taniers: Panthers 24, Seahawks 21 -Newton-Wilson VI pits the NFL’s best team in 2015 against the defending two-time NFC champs and one of the hardest teams to beat in the playoffs in NFL history.

Why are you looking at that last sentence funny? Is it the Roman numerals? Do you think it’s too early for Roman numerals?

It’s not too early for Roman numerals.

This is the sixth meeting of Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. It’s the second playoff meeting. Newton is 26 years old, Wilson 27. Neither will be going anywhere for many years. When Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were those ages, they had only met four times, once in the playoffs. Newton-Wilson is the next Brady-Manning. Get on board now.

Newton is the Manning of the rivalry: former first pick overall, odds-on MVP candidate, famous in football circles since high school, soon-to-be pitchman for everything, the guy much of the nation loves to find reasons to hate. Wilson is the Brady, the gritty underdog who is more about wins than personal glory, the proven winner and gutsy leader who earned his way to the top.

Wilson is also 4-1 in Newton-Wilson Bowls (it’s not too soon, darn it!), including last year’s divisional playoff, which cements his Brady-ness in the Brady-Manning comparison. By extension, and taking into account Sunday’s Houdini performance against the Vikings, it’s easy to conclude that the Seahawks will beat the Panthers by virtue of quarterback playoff magic sauce.

There’s only one problem: The Panthers are better than the Seahawks. They proved it the last time the teams met, winning 27-23 in Week 6.

The Seahawks had everything going for them in that game. They were at home. The 12th Man contributed to three Panthers false starts in the first half. Marshawn Lynch was in Beast Mode, not Limbo Mode. Jimmy Graham was healthy and making a real contribution: eight catches for 140 yards, including a 45-yarder on a patented Wilson miracle scramble. The Seahawks threw the whole playbook at the Panthers, including a Wilson-Lynch-Ricardo Lockette flea-flicker touchdown.

The Seahawks sacked Newton three times and pressured him consistently. They took the Panthers wide receivers completely out of the game. The Seahawks led 20-7 late in the third quarter.

Yet the Panthers won because Newton led three 80-yard drives, manufactured out of short passes to the likes of Jerricho Cotchery, Ed Dickson and Philly Brown and punctuated by touchdowns by Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen. The Panthers proved to be more versatile, resilient and capable of closing out a tight game than the Seahawks—and did it in Seattle. This week, the Panthers will be at home, while the Seahawks will have played in three different time and temperate zones (none of them their own) in three weeks.

Newton-Wilson Bowls differ from Brady-Manning Bowls in many ways. The Panthers and Seahawks usually play defensive duels with final scores like 12-7 and 13-9; that 27-23 final in Week 6 was as explosive as things will ever get. Whereas Manning and Brady stand in the shotgun formation, bark orders and distribute short passes, Newton and Wilson mix pocket passes, designed runs, scrambles and ball fakes on option-flavored plays (plus some order-barking) to overcome each other’s defenses.

Wilson is still the better pocket passer of the pair, as he demonstrated during the Seahawks’ five-game winning streak. But Newton has grown as a pocket passer, decision-maker and ball distributor, to the point that he is better suited to beat the Seahawks than Wilson is to beat the Panthers. Newton and the Panthers are unapologetic about Pistol formations, fullback gives, reverses, inside quarterback runs and option meshes that last for two seconds and freeze the entire defense. The Seahawks have moved away from those tactics, but they may need them against the most disciplined defense they have faced outside of their own practice facility.

The Seahawks used to be the super-creative team with the nasty home-field advantage. The Panthers stole that mantle this season. And by taking hit after hit while fighting for extra yards and leading his share of no-nonsense comebacks this year, Newton has shown he has a little Brady-style leader grit under his fingernails, just as Wilson flashed some Manning-esque passing stats in the second half of the year.

Come to think of it, Newton-Wilson doesn’t have the potential to be Brady-Manning. It has the potential to be better than Brady-Manning.


Split, with two picking each team.

Ricky Doyle: Panthers. Greg Olsen torched the Seahawks earlier this season — posting seven catches for 131 yards and one touchdown — so the Panthers again could look to exploit that matchup advantage. Home field also figures to be key here, as the Panthers are riding a league-best 11-game win streak in their backyard.

Ben Watanabe: Seahawks. I think the Seahawks are winning the Super Bowl, so that would necessitate them not losing by at least three points here, correct?

Mike Cole: Seahawks. The Seahawks’ game plan should revolve around two things: not letting Cam Newton run wild and keeping Olsen quiet. It will be a tall task, but it feels like the Seattle defense is starting to hit its stride again.

Michaela Vernava: Panthers. Panthers-Seahawks is a great rivalry in the making, and this game probably will go down to the wire. In the end, Carolina will get its revenge for last year’s divisional round. Seattle can’t lean on The 12th Man or pulled fire alarms this time.


Adam Wilkinson: Panthers 24, Seahawks 21 – These two teams have developed arguably the best rivalry in the NFC over the past five years. Carolina traveled to Seattle in Week Six of the regular season and shocked Seattle 27-23. Carolina is riding a historic season at 15-1, and will have the advantage of playing at home, where they are 8-0 this season, however to reach the NFC Championship game, the Panthers will have to beat a Seahawks team that is rolling and has played in the Super Bowl the past two seasons. This match-up has the potential to be the best of the four games in the division semifinals, however Carolina will continue their historic run.