It's become the running joke that the Seattle Seahawks appointment with the Carolina Panthers has become as regular as my colonoscopy, and twice as uncomfortable. Okay, maybe that's not a running joke exactly, but the concept holds true.
The Seahawks will be playing the Panthers for the fourth time in the last three years this Saturday, and with both teams winning their division, they'll face each other again next season. (And again in 2016, since that's when the NFC West is scheduled to play against the NFC South again.)
Seattle has won all three of these last three games, but the combined score is only 41-28, with the Seahawks never winning by more than five. Carolina has held a second half lead in all three games, and led all the way up to the final minute of their 13-9 loss to the Seahawks this year. Despite the Panthers being a pretty bad 7-8-1 team this season, with only one win over a team that finished with a winning record (the Detroit Lions in Week 2), they proved once again that they have the formula and personnel to keep it close against the league's best team.
This game is probably going to different.
Even though Carolina comes in on a five-game winning streak, the team's they've played have been bad (including the Arizona Cardinals) and the scores were very close against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns. It's not the same team that went 12-4 a year ago and Seattle isn't really the same team it was in the middle of the season. Beating the Panthers this year was the start of a 9 out of 10 streak that culminated in winning the top seed in the NFC, giving them this extra week to rest and a date at home against Cam Newton, and that's why the Seahawks are favored by 11 points.
Now a lot of people get upset with me when I show this much confidence in an upcoming game, saying that it's a mistake to believe that a team will win, and win rather easily, but here are three things:
- I don't play for the team and what I say or do, sadly, has no effect on the outcome of a football game especially because ...
- Jinxes don't exist. And finally ...
- I'm not saying that Seattle will win. I'm saying they should win. Here is why:
No catch zone. No catch zone. They know better. They know better: 5.7 Y/A
In the first meeting this season between Carolina and Seattle, Kelvin Benjamin made a phenomenal-for-a-rookie-phenomenal-for-anyone catch over Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas that went for 51 yards. It was probably the best catch anyone has made over Sherman or Thomas all season (though Sherman really just mis-timed his hands (rare for him) and should have intercepted it) and he treated the Legion of Boom like a special at Baskin Robbins: Free double dip.
I'm not gonna sit here and tell you that it doesn't count into Newton's whole total or the Panthers total that day, because of course it does. You're the collection of every play and you can't just go around throwing out one of them because it bucks the trend. So I'm not "throwing out" the 51-yard catch, I'm just setting it aside for a minute to give you a better perspective on how Newton played that day.
Newton finished 12-of-22 for 171 yards and one interception. The play by Benjamin was a display of talent beyond what most 6'5 receivers can do, but it also ended up being the longest play he had all season. Only five players in the NFL were targeted more than Benjamin this year, so a long of 51 should give you an idea of how consistently you can expect long gains from Carolina's passing game.
About as consistently as I get replies on my OkCupid messages.
The fact that a rookie who was seen as a great "project" in the draft had that many targets, despite catching only 51% of them, and finishing second in drops with 11, goes to show you how bad the rest of the Panthers receivers were this season.
Benjamin is clearly not being featured in a role that best suits him, and I would not be surprised to see Carolina draft another receiver in the first round this year. Because the other receivers you'll see on Saturday catching passes, or attempting to at least, against the number one defense, are Brenton Bursin and Jerricho Cotchery. You will also see tight ends Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson, but I would assume that Philly Brown is out after his injury against the Cardinals. Running backs Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whitaker may also catch passes, but I don't see how they'll stretch field in any capacity.
These are the players that have to improve upon a passing game that gained 5.7 yards per attempt that day, outside of the 51-yarder to Benjamin. And not only that, but Bobby Wagner, Byron Maxwell, and Jeremy Lane were not active for the game in Carolina. By now you can feel the weight of what the Panthers need to overcome in order for their offense to put up points on the Seahawks defense.
In the first round of the playoffs against an Arizona defense that was hampered by two major facts -- the pressure of having to lift up the worst quarterback in the league, and also that they were overrated to begin with -- Newton wasn't much better. His two touchdowns were practically gifts, he was inaccurate all night, and he had two turnovers. Newton finished with 6.2 yards per attempt on 32 throws.
While I've been banging the drum all year that Newton is "overrated," a term that honestly doesn't accomplish much other than a future engagement to brag, "I told you so," at best, I wholly accept that his supporting cast is weaker than the last five Nic Cage movies. (Or last 20?) There is little harmony between Cam and his over-matched misfits. It's a mis-fit and it's over, match. In his career against Seattle, he is completing 54% of his throws for 145 yards per game and a passer rating of 70.6. He has one touchdown total over three games. It's the second-lowest passer rating he has against any team he's played more than once.
If the Panthers are going to beat Seattle they'll have to find a way to do it without a consistent passing game. I expect Cam Newton to finish the day roughly 15-of-30, 165 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and five rushes for 20 yards.
The best thing he's done so far in his career against the Seahawks is hold onto the football. He'll need to do that again on Saturday to have a chance otherwise he'll be saying ...
Turn O Ver, What?!: 1-7
It's the same point I've made for years and will continue to make until it's not true, which is probably never going to happen: The only battle more important than the turnover battle is the points battle.
Over their last 10 games, the Seahawks turned it over 10 times and forced 19 turnovers. They went 9-1 in those games. They were a little less careful with the ball this season than they were in 2013, but they still finished third in giveaways. They only finished 20th in takeaways, but as the season went on, they were much more consistent in forcing turnovers.
They forced a turnover in nine of their last 10 games, and forced multiple turnovers in seven of those.
Carolina finished 13th in giveaways and 10th in takeaways, but their finish was a bit opposite of Seattle's: The Panthers had 16 giveaways in the last 10 games, and 14 takeaways. However, nine of those came in the last four games, all wins, against the Saints, Buccaneers, Browns, and Falcons. New Orleans and Tampa Bay finished 28th and 31st in giveaways this season, while Cleveland was starting Johnny Manziel.
The Panthers went 1-7 when they didn't win the turnover battle this season.
When these two teams met in October, the turnover battle was an even 2-2. Wilson threw an interception at the end of the half, and there was a mishandled snap with backup center Steven Schilling in the third quarter that was fumbled. Newton fumbled in the second quarter and was intercepted in the third.
Seattle had a 14-10 turnover ratio at home this year, while Carolina had a 9-10 ratio on the road. They turned it over five times against the Eagles in Philly.
Turnovers were a major reason why in their middle five road games they gave up 38, 37, 38, 45, and 31 points. What are they going to allow when the it's the Seahawks that are at their ...
Home studio: 24-2
The last three games between these two teams have all been close, but as we know, the last three games have all been at some ungodly hour in Carolina. Such will not be the case on Saturday at 8:15 PM Eastern/5:15 Pacific in Seattle. Check local listings to find out it's on FOX.
In the last three years, Russell Wilson is 24-2 at home. And Earl Thomas is 24-2 at home. And Richard Sherman is 24-2 at home. And Marshawn Lynch is 24-2 at home. And Doug Baldwin is 24-2 at home. And you are 24-2 at home. (Way to blow it those two times, fans.)
In their loss this season at home to the Dallas Cowboys, the Seahawks were without Max Unger and Tharold Simon, while Kam Chancellor was not his usual self. They were also nearing the end of their rope with Percy Harvin, and were not using Paul Richardson or Kevin Norwood. The offense is clicking better in recent weeks now that they've changed their offensive gameplan and began to work Richardson and Norwood in on a regular basis. Unger should be back and Simon helps provide even more depth in the league's best secondary.
In their shocking 17-10 loss to the Cardinals in 2013, they were playing without KJ Wright and Paul McQuistan was starting in place of James Carpenter. However, that game was an example of how you can do a lot of things right and still get beat.
Carson Palmer was intercepted four times but that's when we learned that turnovers aren't always valuable: Seattle scored zero points on those four picks. Three came in Seahawks territory (two were their own red zone) and the fourth was returned to the three yard line by Malcolm Smith but after they failed to score a touchdown on three tries, Steven Hauschka missed a 24-yard field goal try. If the Panthers defense can play that well in Seattle and keep the score low, then of course the game will be up for either team to take.
But that game against Arizona has been quite the exception to what else has happened in the last three years:
- In their 24 home wins in that span, only seven have come by a touchdown or less.
- Their turnover ratio at home has been 59:27, for a differential of +32.
- They are 5-0 against "East coast" teams at home, 7-0 if the Saints are an "east coast" team. And I guess 8-1 if the Cowboys are an "east coast" team.
- The Seahawks have won their last seven home playoff games and are 9-2 overall.
- Wilson had a reverse split this season. His passer rating at home was 80.8 compared to 107.6 on the road. He had six touchdown passes and six interceptions in CenturyLink compared to 14 to 1 on the road. That one road interception did come in Carolina. His career home passer rating is 100.9. Of course, there are other players besides Wilson.
- Lynch had a similar number of yards and yards per carry at home compared to the road, but 11 of his 13 rushing touchdowns came in Seattle. He had almost twice as many receiving yards at home. He had 148 carries at home and 51 missed or broken tackles. You can probably guess how insane that ratio is.
- Richard Sherman was thrown at 35 times at home this season. He allowed 16 catches for 187 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 50.5. The quarterbacks that came to Seattle this season were Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Derek Carr, Eli Manning, Drew Stanton, Colin Kaepernick, and Shaun Hill.
- Earl Thomas was thrown at 11 times, allowing five catches for 23 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and a rating of 14.6. Thomas and Kam Chancellor had 41 and 39 solo tackles at home this year, respectively, but Chancellor missed two home games. Chancellor allowed a passer rating of 67.2 on 19 attempts, no touchdowns.
- The Panthers are 15-16-1 on the road under Ron Rivera, and 3-4-1 this season. The best teams they faced on the road were Baltimore (lost 38-10), Cincinnati (tied 37-37), Green Bay (lost 38-17), Philadelphia (lost 45-21) and Minnesota (lost 31-13.) Their three road wins were all in the division, the worst division in football. To be fair, they beat the Saints and Falcons by a lot.
Now let's compound all these home stats with playing in ...
Primetime: 28 touchdowns/4 interceptions
You won't find Bill Murray or John Belushi on the Seahawks roster, because these guys are ready for primetime, player.
In the last three seasons, Seattle has played 15 games on either Sunday night, Monday night, Thursday night, or in the playoffs, on national television. In those games they are 13-2 with losses to the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday in 2012, Wilson's seventh career game, and to the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs that same season. (Some people might not refer to that as a "primetime" game because it was a day game, but I am not "some people." It was on the big stage.)
They are 7-0 at home in nationally-televised games, including three wins over the 49ers, two wins over the Packers, and two wins over the Saints. The average score is 29-12*.
*rounded up from 11.8 because writing a score with a decimal point feels wrong**.
**unless it's the Rams, who I assume sometimes score fractional points.
Wilson has 13 touchdowns and two interceptions in those games. The opposing quarterbacks in those games (Aaron Rodgers, Colin Kaepernick, Drew Brees, for those new to sports) have thrown five touchdowns and seven interceptions combined.
Overall, Wilson has thrown 28 touchdowns against four interceptions in 15 nationally-televised games. This season he had seven touchdowns and no interceptions in four primetime games. In the playoffs he has six touchdowns and one interception with a passer rating of 102.
For all of these reasons (and more, believe it or not) the Seahawks should be advancing to the NFC Championship Game for the second year in a row. It definitely does not mean that they absolutely will, but based on these numbers, Seattle should be one step closer from going to "trophy" to "trophies."
(Not all songs endorsed by me, they just fit the language.)