The Panthers are pretty talented -- probably more talented than the Seahawks. The offensive line still run blocks very well. I am not wild about Jonathan Stewart or Mike Goodson, but Goodson is pretty good between the tackles and Stewart is dangerous in space. The defense plays hard and is talented. The back seven covers pretty well and Charles Johnson is an emerging star at defensive end.
The Panther are pretty talented and probably more talented than the Seahawks, but the quarterback situation has been a mess. Watching Jimmy Clausen against the Bucs and the Browns, he still displays plenty of the qualities that impressed me. He has a quick, compact release. Healthy, he has good short and mid-range zip and can fit it into a tight window. He has nice accuracy on the deep pass. Clausen always, always, always looks down field, and unless he's faking it, he looks like he reads coverage pretty well for a rookie.
That hasn't helped him so far. Clausen doesn't seem to get the offense. He doesn't lock onto one receiver like some quarterbacks, or not as much, but he does take way too long to make a decision. Routes go dead, pressure arrives, Clausen doesn't negotiate pressure very well, and though his arm isn't bad, he's pretty short and pretty slight and he doesn't generate a lot of zip when he can't step up, or is falling backward, or is under duress. He doesn't make smart decisions under pressure. That combination of slow read, eyes always down field, limited arm strength and poor decision making leads to some ugly attempts consummated with terrible throws.
So, the Panthers overall are a bad team, and with Seattle's use of zones and edge rush, it wouldn't surprise if Seattle turned this into a turnover fueled blowout.
But I would be remiss if I didn't mention the parallel situation the 2009 Seahawks found themselves in week 15 of last season. The 1-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers traveled to Qwest to face the 5-8 Seahawks. No one thought the Seahawks were good, but surely they could beat Tampa at home. Instead, Josh Freeman had a respectable showing and the Bucs soundly beat the Seahawks.
Tampa is 7-4 this season. A young team on the rise beat an old team collapsing down the stretch.
I don't think that will happen today, but I no longer know what to expect from the Seahawks. This should be a walk. If you're like me and you can't help but feel ambivalent about Seattle being in the thick of a playoff run but playing like one of the worst teams in the NFL, there are still five games for this team to improve. More than the playoffs, that's what I really want: The Seahawks to be good again.