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Who do you love to hate? Carolina Panthers vs. Los Angeles Rams

Rivalry is a state of mind. In this series, we look at the most-reviled Seahawks opponents.

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

This summer I’ve heard many questions asking who should be the Seattle Seahawks’ chief rival, now that the gold rush in San Francisco has all panned out. I say, why must there be only one?

The kind of rivalry I’m talking about doesn’t follow logic or geography or league alignment. It is more personal, more instinctive. We’re also in the spirit of storytelling. The number of rivals can be as unlimited as the depths of your memory and the reasons as local and varied as the surfaces of your heart.

In the next few weeks I’ll occasionally consider pairs of Seahawks rivals, using both competitive stakes and this personal, emotional territory to determine which of the two …for the moment… is a greater rivalry.

Carolina Panthers

The first time Seattle won an NFC Championship it was against the Panthers in 2005, and even though fifth-seeded Carolina appeared to be a walkover that year, the desperate hazards at the doorknob of the Super Bowl and the fact Steve Smith, Jake Delhomme, John Fox, He Hate Me and crew had already been to that game two years earlier granted a whisper of nervousness to the affair.

The Seahawks won by 20. It was only the third time Seattle had ever faced the Panthers and they met just twice more in the next seven years, so that solitary playoff encounter never stirred much animosity. But since 2012 the pair has battled six times, an unusual frequency for non-divisional foes, including playoff knockouts each of the last two years split among both sides—with each winner later advancing to the Super Bowl.

This new regularity and premium incentive has lately injected the tilt with head-to-head richness and even a fair dose of bad blood for players (viz. Frank Clark’s mouth-watering Tweets targeting Cam Newton during the Super Bowl) and fans alike. Each team seems willing to introduce challenging wrinkles into their playoff preparations for the other, whether that’s a stunning kick-block formation that saw Kam Chancellor twice in a row leap over the Carolina line like some combination of a gazelle and the Terminator in 2014.

Or the Panthers matching that ingenuity by deliberately efforting reprehensible field conditions for the game in Charlotte this past January, which loose turf appeared to swallow Earl Thomas on the first play from scrimmage (a 60-yard Jonathan Stewart run that set the tone for the disastrous Seahawks first half). Seattle, as we know, made a near-total comeback in the second frame, convincing all of us (and probably nobody in North or South Carolina) that the shoe will be on the other foot in 2016.

Los Angeles Rams

Texts from my brother:

"Seahawks play terribly in all phases for 10 minutes, 24-13 rams."

"Just terribly."

"Jimmy graham is as soft as he has always looked vs. us. Dude doesn’t fight for 1st downs."

"Graham answers my criticism with TD catch. Marshawn converts the 2pt 24-21 rams. 12 minutes left in 4th."

"Earl forces a fumble, seahawks ball on our 25, 9 minutes."

"Seahawks bog down in the red zone again but get another FG. Tied at 24. 4.5 to go."

"Cary Williams corner blitz, strip sack, AND HE RECOVERS THE FUMBLE FOR A SCORE. Wow."

"You almost never see one guy get the strip sack and then recover for a TD outside of the end zone."

"Dion Bailey falls down rams TD. Tie game."

"53 seconds. One seattle timeout."

"OT after poor play calling and decisions on last drive. TJack blows the coin toss."

"Rams receive."

"Seahawks concede the game by attempting an onsides kick."

"Rams FG. It’s up to the offense now."

"Bevell calls a shotgun run on 4th and 1, first failed and 1 of the game ends it. Rams win 34-31"

"…Fn rams…"

For the moment: Although both the Panthers and Rams beat Seattle twice last year, Carolina’s wins were much more consequential and the reigning NFC champions seem a more imposing roadblock in the upcoming year no matter how much milk Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and the hungry L.A. sack artists stockpile to eat the Seahawks offensive line for breakfast.

The return to Los Angeles, given the location on the western seaboard, the Pete Carroll connection and the all-around improved visibility of the franchise, may help elevate the Seahawks-Rams rivalry in the years to come. Perhaps Jared Goff eventually joins the conversation about whose rising quarterback is more elite.

But as it stands that conversation orbits around the twin focuses of Russell Wilson and Newton, their talents so perfectly pitched and styles simultaneously opposed for superstardom, and it’s a fault line of disagreement that should keep the conflict fresh against the Panthers—maybe until St. Louis gets another NFL team.

And now, because you demanded it, a poll: