Did we all get what we wanted? Nope, not on December 25th, but in the aftermath of Carolina tossing aside Arizona last Saturday night. Whichever big cat was headed to Seattle, I sure as hell wanted to see a Panther a-comin' round the mountain. For so long in Dallas last week it looked as though a Golden Lion would swagger back through the gates of the Emerald City this Saturday, warmly welcomed by his once adoring throng, safe in the knowledge that if it wasn't for one Percy Harvin...
Russell Wilson would have embraced his once most trusted receiver and we in turn would have held our collective breath each and every time Tate touched the pigskin. And here's the thing...my preference was for Seattle to host Carolina this week, yet there I was genuinely made up for Tate when he scampered for the opening score. In addition to that is the plain and simple truth that I will always struggle to root for the Dallas Cowboys, no matter what. That said, I'll be doing exactly the same this week. Oh, the vagaries of thought when it comes to playoff football.
So, what to think of the defending Super Bowl champions entertaining a team that entered Week 14 armed with a 3-8-1 record? Not that I have any idea of what was on offer, but you probably could've named your own odds at that stage for the Panthers to be visiting Seattle in the divisional round of the playoffs. CenturyLink Field in mid-January was a laughable thought for anybody of a Carolina persuasion as the aforementioned Week 14 saw them head to the Superdome as 9 point underdogs, and all the while having won just one of their previous ten games.
That last statistic is positively preposterous for a playoff team, but them's the rules and the Panthers did absolutely nothing wrong in winning the weakest division in football since the 2010 NFC West. So, as insipid as the NFC South was this year, Carolina still finished with a better record (7-8-1) than the division-topping Seahawks (7-9) did in 2010. Which brings us on nicely to the not insignificant topic of playoff expansion and, in turn, seeding.
The NFL's (current) worst kept secret is that each conference will invite a seventh team to its respective playoff party as of 2015 with the added twist of division winners (division champion just doesn't sit right, despite being technically correct) no longer being guaranteed a home playoff game. For what it's worth, I'm dead against playoff expansion, but not an adjustment to playoff seeding if/when expansion is agreed upon. However, if it wasn't for the current format, you can wipe out one of the most defining moments in Seahawks history.
Bear in mind that Beast Quake 2.0 this season would not have been so called had the NFL always decided upon playoff seeding based on regular season record. Yes, Marshawn Lynch would still have left us all misty eyed at that beautiful, beautiful run in Arizona this season, but Beast Quake was only spawned in the first place thanks to the NFL's quaint system, where mediocrity has its rewards. That quaintness resulted in Seattle sealing a home wild card game after the 2010 regular season and the stadium subsequently going bananas as Marshawn hammered the final nail into the coffin of the NFL champion Saints.
Had true seeding been applied, the #6 seed Seahawks would have travelled to #3 seed Philadelphia and the pavements around the hallowed turf of Qwest Field would never have shuddered on January 8, 2011.
Back to the Panthers and that Week 14 trip to New Orleans as nine point underdogs. Their season looked truly over, but they not only covered the spread, they positively obliterated the Saints SU, to the tune of 41-10. It was a curious old end to Carolina's season as they bookended stunning wins in the Superdome and in Atlanta (34-3) with barely-over-the-line home victories against the Buccaneers (19-17) and Browns (17-13).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Panthers began every road game as the underdog this season, but never did the line reach double digits. I only mention that as I've just realised that I've not yet mentioned the fact that Seattle are 10.5 point favourites this week. Well, that's the consensus although you can get your claws on Carolina +11 over at 5Dimes as of Tuesday afternoon.
The biggest underdog the Panthers were all season was in New Orleans, but you probably would've guessed that by now and they finished the year 4-4 ATS on the road. Aside from the road covers against the Saints and Falcons, Carolina also covered in Tampa Bay (+4.5) on opening weekend and in Cincinnati (+7) where they played out a wild 37-37 tie with the Bengals.
As we're all well aware, the Panthers are now a familiar foe and if it's slightly unfair to denigrate Seattle's 16-12 win in Carolina in Week 5 of the 2012 season as a football spectacle, then what is fair is to label the last two victories over the Panthers as truly attritional football. Not that there's anything wrong with that. They're the games you remember, or at least I do, as those victories resonate more with me than, say, home wins over the Vikings and Jets in 2012 or the Jaguars in 2013.
Whatever momentum Carolina brings, on the back of a five game winning streak, the stark truth is that if the Panthers are to progress to the Championship Game, they have to overcome a Seahawks outfit that, including the playoffs, is 24-2 SU at home since the beginning of the 2012 season, a record that includes victories over teams with far greater talent levels than that which the visitors bring on Saturday. That isn't me expressing over confidence as I'm about the most pessimistic Seahawks fan you could meet, but the feeling persists that the only team who can beat Seattle this week is Seattle themselves.
The fact that this game begins in the evening won't help Carolina either and very, very few players on the Panthers squad, if any (somebody out there may have the precise number) will have set foot in CenturyLink Field before. Oh, the N-O-I-S-E.
You can discuss the notion of a Super Bowl hangover 'til the cows come home, but the fact remains that there was trouble at t'mill during the early to midway point of the season in Seattle and just how much of that can be attributed to Harvin is purely conjecture. He undoubtedly had a role to play, but to dwell on that here is futile. The point I'm trying to make (not that you won't know it anyway) is that when the locker room needed its leaders to properly step up, they properly stepped up, folks started listening and the run of allowing only one team to reach double figures in five of their last six games is testament to a chemistry Walter White would be proud of cooking up.
If these Seahawks could have been accused of losing a little focus this season, we can rest assured that the next time it happens won't be at least until the 2015 season rolls around.
What of the Seahawks as a double digit home favourite in the Russell Wilson era? Purely from a betting perspective, their record offers no clues whatsoever as to where the hard earned goes this week. While I expect Saturday to be anything but easy, I will put out there that I believe Seattle will cover the spread, but don't take my word for it...even though some of you might read these for that very reason. Exactly, of course you don't and nor should you. OK, for those of you that might be wondering, here's Seattle's 5-5 record ATS as a double digit home favourite in the RWE broken down:
2012, Week 14 -10 vs. Cardinals WON 58-0
2012, Week 17 -10.5 vs. Rams WON 20-13
2013, Week 3 -18.5 vs. Jaguars WON 45-17
2013, Week 6 -12.5 vs. Titans WON 20-13
2013, Week 9 -14.5 vs. Buccaneers WON 27-24 (OT)
2013, Week 11 -11.5 vs. Vikings WON 41-20
2013, Week 16 -10 vs. Cardinals LOST 17-10
2013, Week 17 -10.5 vs. Rams WON 27-9
2014, Week 9 -15 vs. Raiders WON 30-24
2014, Week 17 -11.5 vs. Rams WON 20-6
Yep, 5-5 is hardly inspiring, but take a look at the actual outcomes. As a double digit home favourite with Russ pulling the strings, the Seahawks are 9-1 SU. Seattle don't mess about much.
Please gamble responsibly.