The 2013 NFL regular season started with the Seattle Seahawks traveling to Charlotte and once again beating the Carolina Panthers in a low-scoring slugfest. Last year the Seahawks won after Brandon Browner stonewalled Louis Murphy at the 1 yard line, which set up Cam Newton's grounder to short on 4th and goal. This year the game was won on a forced fumble by Earl Thomas on DeAngelo Williams, who was inside the 10 yard line with just minutes remaining in the 4th.
Right now the Seahawks are 6-1 and the Panthers are 3-3. Seattle is on its way to a playoff spot, but the division title and the #1 seed (not that that particular seed has meant shit in the NFC since 2006) will almost certainly come down to the wire. Seattle cannot control how the Saints and 49ers perform the rest of the year unless Russell Wilson is the ultimate midget miracle worker.
This is where the Panthers come in.
You see, the Panthers may have an absolutely gun-shy, accident prone, timeout mismanaging, talent underestimating joke of a head coach, but sometimes teams can still thrive despite having a terrible coach at the helm (see: Bengals). Carolina has allowed just 83 pts in 6 games, including 12 pts to the Seahawks. Cam Newton has been lights out in his past two games, albeit against an awful Vikings team and the Rams. They're top 10 in overall DVOA and will probably beat the shit out of Tampa Bay on Thursday to climb above .500.
Carolina has three big games upcoming that directly impact Seattle's two goals:
-- November 10th at San Francisco. The 49ers are on a roll again and frankly their schedule is just as easy as Seattle's over the next few weeks. However, the Panthers have a great run defense (4th DVOA) that is well equipped to stop San Francisco's rushing attack and amazingly stacked offensive line. Taking away San Francisco's run game is vital, and I think the Panthers can do it. Carolina's offense ... they're just too hot and cold for me, and they'll probably suck in this game, but if they can keep this as a low-scoring contest throughout, they have a shot at the upset. The Panthers beating the 49ers would accomplish both giving the 49ers a conference loss and put them (at worst for Seattle) 1.5 games behind the Seahawks in the division and 2.5 at best if the Seahawks win all of their games.
-- December 8th at New Orleans. Believe it or not, the Panthers swept the Saints last year. This game is the week after the Saints play the Seahawks as well as when the Seahawks playing the 49ers at Candlestick. If Seattle beats San Francisco then the division is probably wrapped up, and that would focus all of our attention on hoping the Saints fall behind (further).
-- December 22nd vs. New Orleans. Well there's really not much to add here. If the Panthers can at least manage a split that would be hugely beneficial to us and possibly the Panthers, who will probably not win the division but could potentially be in the wild card hunt instead of their annual surge to 7-9.
So please, root for Cam Newton to kick ass, for Steve Smith to do Steve Smith things, root for Luke Kuechly to hang all over Vernon Davis like a jacket on James Brown, root for Ron Rivera when he goes for it on 4th and any distance. The Panthers are our potential ticket to a division title and a #1 seed, and Seattle's continued winning combined with their help could provide us exactly what fans have desired since the start of the season.