The Carolina Panthers are licking their chops over their divisional-round rematch with the Seattle Seahawks.
Last January, the top-seeded Seahawks trumped the sub-.500 Panthers, 31-17, in Seattle en route to their second straight NFC title.
But both teams enter Sunday’s game in different standing than their meeting a year ago, and Panthers safety Roman Harper has no trepidation about facing the two-time defending NFC champs, per Steve Reed of the Associated Press.
"We are the better team," he said. "We have to go out and show confidence in who we are and the things that we have done all year—and don't shy away from the pressure."
Harper and the Panthers reached last year’s playoffs at 7-8-1 as winners of the porous NFC South, and won their wild card game against the Arizona Cardinals to set up their divisional date in Seattle.
Yet Harper acknowledged the Panthers merely walked into last year’s game rather than spear it head-on, per Bill Both of BlackAndBlueReview.com:
To be honest with you, I don't think we were ready for it [last year]. We were excited to be there and have a ticket to the dance. [This year] we have a better-looking date because we're 15-1 and at home. This year we are looking forward to them having to come here.
Bleacher Report’s Adam Lefkoe and Chris Simms gave a breakdown of Sunday’s rematch:
Carolina has lost only once since its season-ending defeat in Seattle last year, marching through 2015 with the league’s best record in convincing fashion behind MVP front-runner Cam Newton and a rugged defense.
Along the way, the Panthers defeated the Seahawks, 27-23, on the road in a benchmark performance on their way to a 14-0 start.
Prior to that victory, the Panthers had lost four times in three seasons to the Seahawks.
Seattle stumbled early and sneaked into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, only reaching the divisional round because of a missed field goal by Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh in the Wild Card Round.
But the Seahawks have the postseason pedigree—they’re 7-3 under head coach Pete Carroll—which makes them dangerous at this time of year.
Even after advancing in a game that they arguably should have lost, the Seahawks enter Sunday's matchup as mere 1.5-point underdogs, per Odds Shark.
Throw out the seeding for this one.
These teams have been on a collision course to meet in January since Thanksgiving, if not earlier.
And though Harper’s comments may be bulletin-board material, they’ll likely have a minimal impact on the outcome of Sunday's contest.