Seahawks vs. Panthers: TV Schedule, Predictions for 2016 NFC Divisional Game

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2016

The Carolina Panthers will lean on a balanced offense Sunday to counter the Seattle Seahawks.
The Carolina Panthers will lean on a balanced offense Sunday to counter the Seattle Seahawks.Bob Leverone/Associated Press

The next generation isn't alone in the playoffs by any means, but it does take center stage Sunday when Russell Wilson's Seattle Seahawks visit Cam Newton's Carolina Panthers.

Like a few other postseason games this year, this one's a rematch of a 27-23 Week 6 outcome in which Newton went to Wilson's house and stole a late victory.

Since then, the Panthers have lost all of just one game on the season, Newton looks like the MVP and the Seahawks have rallied around Wilson while morphing into one of the most explosive offenses in the league.

Call it the perfect playoff matchup without a blemish as far as storylines go. Below, let's nail down predictions for the game before deciding who wins and how.

Game Details

When: Sunday, January 17, at 1:05 p.m. ET

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

Television: Fox

Tickets: ScoreBig.com

Over/Under: 44

Spread: Carolina (-3)

Notable Predictions

Russell Wilson Gets Grounded

There's no undermining what Wilson has accomplished this season despite losing star tight end Jimmy Graham and for a while not having an offense outside of Doug Baldwin.

In fact, Wilson helped the Seahawks close the season on a 6-1 run while tossing 24 touchdowns to one interception. Not bad numbers for a guy who mostly had to do it without lead back Marshawn Lynch, though Beast Mode does figure to return this weekend, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Wilson cooled in the playoffs, though, and that's not just a silly pun for how cold it was when his Seahawks visited the Minnesota Vikings and got a 10-9 win. He faced plenty of pressure and finished just 13-of-26 with 142 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

As ESPN Stats & Info noted, when Minnesota pressured Wilson it stopped him cold:

Now recall the first meeting between these teams, where the Panthers sacked Wilson four times and forced him into an 18-of-30 line with just 241 yards and one score at home despite a decent 115 yards and a score by the team on the ground.

Long story short, Kawann Short (11 sacks) and the Panthers, owners of 44 sacks on the season, don't have problems pressuring Wilson. It doesn't seem to matter if Lynch is on the field or not, and this time, Wilson won't have Graham, who in the first meeting caught eight passes for 140 yards on 12 targets—the person who came in second in targets had just four—as a safety valve.

On the road, Wilson will have a hard time against a defense that has already silenced him once and knows how to do so again.

Cam Newton Leads Ground Game

Folks should know all about Newton now, he of a 15-1 record with 45 total touchdowns despite no Kelvin Benjamin.

Newton leans on a defense that ranks sixth in scoring, 11th against the pass and fourth against the rush, of course, but it shouldn't take away from what he's been able to accomplish with Ted Ginn as a No. 1 wideout.

It's not just that Newton tossed 35 scores to 10 picks while suffering 33 sacks, it's that he averaged 4.8 yards per carry to finish second on the team in rushing with 636 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns. 

The ground game is how the Panthers will pull off the win Sunday, much as it did back near the start of the season. There, Newton mustered only a 1-2 touchdowns-interception ratio but ran seven times for 30 yards and a score, while lead back Jonathan Stewart managed 78 yards and two scores on 20 carries.

As he told Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Stewart won't have any limitations after a sluggish end to the season:

It's the most important component of Sunday's game. Seattle might rank first against the rush and just held Adrian Peterson to 45 yards on 23 carries, but Newton's versatility stretches the Seahawks thin and helps Carolina act as one of the rare teams capable of running the ball on the defense.

Like the first contest, Newton might not have the most success through the air. But this time, at least, he understands Ginn is more reliable than early on in the season, making the offense even more dangerous than in the first encounter.

Prediction

Some might vibe with the revenge narrative here, but it's just hard to get behind.

Carolina, led by the likely league MVP, had a week off and had to expect Seattle would be the team it encountered for the first game. It is, and that Seattle team had to struggle in freezing temperatures and get a missed field goal from the opposition to advance.

Newton's versatility will keep the Seattle defense honest and off the field. When Wilson actually gets on it, he's not going to have an easy time moving the ball on the road in the elements while under constant pressure.

The Panthers have already done this once. While the second time won't be any easier, it'll be impressive all the same.

Prediction: Panthers 30, Seahawks 24

Stats courtesy of NFL.com and accurate as of January 15. All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football FocusAll betting information courtesy of Odds Shark.

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