Both the Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers hit the NFL's divisional-round encounter Sunday with revenge on the mind.
The visiting Seahawks would like a bit of redemption for a Week 6, 27-23 home loss to these Panthers after normally dominating the series as of late. Russell Wilson and Co. were on an epic tear up until the postseason, where they now play with house money after a missed field goal helped them advance.
The hosts took that Week 6 win, but ghosts of the past still chase Cam Newton and the Panthers, who got knocked from the playoffs in the divisional round last year by these same Seahawks.
Here's everything to know about what should be a gritty, defensive-minded affair in Carolina.
When: Sunday, January 17, at 1:05 p.m. ET
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
Spread: Carolina (-2.5)
Team Injury Reports
|Marshawn Lynch, RB||Probable|
|Luke Willson, TE||Probable|
|Fozzy Whittaker, RB||Questionable|
|Ted Ginn Jr., WR||Questionable|
|Jonathan Stewart, RB||Questionable|
Injury reports courtesy of ESPN.com.
Forcing the Issue
Much has changed for the Seahawks since the loss to the Panthers.
Seattle started the season 2-4 but closed on a 6-1 tear, leaning more than ever on the arm of Russell Wilson while he went mostly to wideout Doug Baldwin, who finished the year with 78 catches for 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns.
But in the loss to the Panthers, Wilson tossed just one score, Marshawn Lynch managed 54 yards and a score on 17 carries and Baldwin mustered three catches while tight end Jimmy Graham exploded for eight grabs and 140 yards.
Graham's out for the season, leaving Baldwin more alone than usual against the league's top corner, Josh Norman. Even coach Pete Carroll told the media the task ahead looks huge.
ESPN.com captured his thoughts: "We realize we've got to do this on the road and if we want to do something really special, it's going to take an incredible run here. … We're going to do everything we can to see if we can slow them down and find a way to move the football against a great football team."
The Seahawks didn't look so special in the freezing temperatures of Minnesota against the Vikings in the last round, pulling out a 10-9 win while Wilson went just 13-of-26 from the field and the team rushed for 3.5 yards per carry, only to watch Minnesota miss a chip shot and lose.
If there's a saving grace for Seattle, it's the defense, which held Minnesota's Adrian Peterson to 45 yards on 23 carries. If Richard Sherman and the defense can find a way to slow Newton, then Wilson will have it easier, and Carroll's imagined "incredible run" can begin in earnest.
Beginning a Streak
Carolina would like more than anything to take down the Seahawks again, this time at home and in the postseason to silence any doubters about the team's title candidacy.
It's hard not to believe. Newton has to be the MVP favorite by a large margin after losing top wideout Kelvin Benjamin for the season and still accounting for 45 total touchdowns while leading the team to a 15-1 mark.
In Seattle, Newton tossed a pair of picks but led a late comeback before finishing with two total touchdowns and getting some help from lead back Jonathan Stewart's two rushing scores.
Newton's been so impressive, in fact, that Wilson would crown him MVP, according to Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer:
Russell Wilson says Cam Newton should be the league's MVP https://t.co/9QQFReVKH2— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) January 14, 2016
If there's a big negative surrounding the Panthers right now, it's the health of the secondary, which recently lost Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere to season-ending injuries. Wilson's been on fire as of late, but the potential saving grace is the absence of Graham this time around, not to mention an overarching defensive unit that tallied 44 sacks this year, including four of Wilson in the first encounter.
Balance is the name of the game for the Panthers once again. In the first meeting, Newton attempted just three more passes than the team's rushing total, holding the ball for more than 32 minutes and limiting the damage Wilson and Graham could do.
At home and well-rested after Seattle just scraped by, Carolina has to hope a slightly new-look secondary holds up and otherwise simply executes its plan against a capable opponent.
Which team will win?
This is Carolina's game to lose.
Newton and Co. sit on an 11-game streak at home, got a week off to rest and prepare, watched while Seattle struggled and already boasts a win over the Seahawks to boot.
Down Graham, Seattle won't be able to move the ball through the air as it did in the first encounter, nor will the defense have a sudden solution to slowing Newton, something no team has been able to do this season.
Look for Newton to lead another late surge after his offense controls the clock once again, beginning a streak and punching a ticket to the next round.
Prediction: Panthers 30, Seahawks 24