RENTON — Somehow, though the teams are in different divisions and a country apart, the Seahawks always seem to find themselves facing the Carolina Panthers at a key time of the season.
Through some oddities of NFL scheduling, the two teams have played seven times in the regular season since 2010 and twice more in the playoffs.
Some of the regular-season games have been among the more meaningful wins in recent team history: the comeback win to open the 2013 season and set the tone for the march to the Super Bowl title (as well as proving critical later in securing home-field advantage in the playoffs that year); the 2014 win the week after the Percy Harvin trade that kicked off a stretch of nine wins in 10 games to propel another Super Bowl run; and last season’s comeback when Seattle was just 5-5. The win turned the corner to an eventual 10-6 season.
Now, after a loss to the Rams that halted a five-game winning streak and threw Seattle back into second in the NFC West, here again comes a trip to Carolina.
Here’s a look at what to watch.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Carolina RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Seattle defense.
McCaffrey, the third-year vet out of Stanford, might still be in the MVP hunt had the Panthers’ season not gone off the rails. The Panthers have lost five in a row and two weeks ago fired coach Ron Rivera. McCaffrey still has a huge lead in total yards with 1,946 (1,220 rushing, 726 receiving). But McCaffrey’s numbers shifted a little bit of late. After rushing for 100 or more yards in six of Carolina’s first nine games he has been held to 70 or fewer in each of the past four. Meanwhile, 38 of his 86 receptions for the season have come in the past four games with at least seven or more in each. Basically, being behind a lot means Carolina has been throwing it more to McCaffrey rather than handing it to him. Either way, Seattle has to know where he is at all times. One to watch particularly is rookie linebacker Cody Barton, who will again start on the strongside with Mychal Kendricks out and could be in some one-on-one situations with McCaffrey.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
Will they try to get the deep passing game going more?
Russell Wilson had one of his more explosive games against the Panthers last season, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt — his second highest in 2018. Wilson has bettered that total only once this season (11.7 in the first game against the Rams) and of late the deep passing game has been somewhat stunted — the 6.8 of last week was the second-lowest average of the year. But protection issues made it hard to throw deep much last week and the previous week the Vikings (7.7 per attempt) dared Seattle to run, so the Seahawks did. Tyler Lockett’s injury/illness has also factored in. Carolina’s stats against the pass aren’t bad (6.0 yards per pass attempt, 12th lowest) in part because the Panthers are terrible against the run. So running and controlled passing may again be more the order. Still, expect Seattle to try to take more shots than last week.
PLAYER TO WATCH
RB Chris Carson.
Speaking of the Panthers’ run defense, it’s as bad as it gets in the NFL, allowing 5.3 yards per carry, worse than anyone in the league except Jacksonville. Each of the past three teams Seattle played is giving up 4.2 yards per rush or less. So that could mean Seattle, which always wants to establish the run anyway, will go into this one with even more of a mindset to let the run, and Carson, carry the day. Carson quietly went over 1,000 yards last week (he has 1,057 for the season).
Defensive ends Quinton Jefferson and Rasheem Green
The Seahawks on Friday ruled out Jadeveon Clowney, who spent the week battling the flu and also has a core muscle injury that figures to bother him the rest of the season, while also listing Ziggy Ansah as a gametime decision. Ansah sat out last week with neck/shoulder issues after suffering a stinger the previous game against the Vikings. That raises the possibility that the Seahawks could play for the first time this season without either of the two players they acquired in the offseason hoping to replace the production lost with the trade of Frank Clark as well as just beef up the pass rush overall. If so, then the Seahawks are going to need to lean that much more on Jefferson and Green. Green has three sacks but has none in the past two games as Seattle doesn’t have any as a team. Jefferson had two sacks in the opener but has just half-a-sack since then and also has just two QB hits since returning from an oblique injury four games ago, though each occurred last Sunday against the Rams.
DE Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney hasn’t been the same since the 49ers game while dealing with a core muscle injury, and this week also missed two practices while sick. But he was back at practice Friday and while he was listed as limited and questionable for the game, Carroll seemed to imply he’ll play Sunday. He’ll have a little added incentive to get well as the game will be a chance to play in front of family and friends. He grew up in Rock Hill, S.C., about 28 miles from Charlotte. More to the point, the Seahawks can use whatever contribution he can give them especially with fellow end Ziggy Ansah a game-time decision with neck/shoulder issues.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
RB C.J Prosise.
With Rashaad Penny out, the Seahawks will turn to mercurial fourth-year tailback C.J. Prosise as Carson’s backup. Prosise has been oft-injured in his career but has had some brief moments of real productivity. And since Carson isn’t going to get 100% of the snaps — well, he did come close once this year with 96% against the 49ers but is generally more in the 70-ish range — Prosise is going to get on the field. Coaches and teammates cite a common refrain — when Prosise has been healthy he’s played well. Time to show that again.
30-7. That’s Seattle’s record when coming off an in-season loss under Wilson, the best for any QB since 2012.
Of course, Wilson also wins in a lot of situations. He needs one more regular-season victory to tie Tom Brady for the most for any QB in his first eight seasons with 86. But Seattle hasn’t lost two in a row all season, so no reason to start now.
THE FINAL WORD
Seahawks 31, Panthers 24.
The Panthers are reeling, having lost five in a row, star quarterback Cam Newton and their coach. And they sort of looked like a team that had given up during their 40-20 loss to Atlanta last week. But something tells us they’ll keep this one competitive and it will turn into the usual Carolina nail-biter. But the guess here is that the result will be the same as it usually is, too, with Wilson giving his team the plays at the end to pull out a much-needed bounce-back win.