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NFC Playoff Races: Seahawks in position for wild card with win in Week 12

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NFL: Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It was easy and understandable to feel discouraged about the Seattle Seahawks’ playoff chances when they dropped to 4-5 following a loss to the LA Rams in Week 10, but much like being down 14-3 early to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night, it’s usually a bad idea to count out Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson when there’s time left on the clock. The Seahawks seemed to have a whole host of teams ahead of them in the wild card race just a week ago and now the path to a postseason berth — for a short time at least — is clear:

Beat the Carolina Panthers in Week 12.

After Seattle improved to 5-5 on Thursday, eyes turn to the 6-3 Panthers who were on the road on Sunday against the 3-6 Detroit Lions, a team that the Seahawks beat in Detroit less than a month ago. Carolina tied the score 13-13 in the fourth quarter, then the Lions struck back with a touchdown by Kenny Golladay to go up 20-13. After exchanging punts, the Panthers got the ball back with 2:44 remaining and at their own 25. Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey hooked up for a 34-yard gain on the first play and then roughly a minute later they scored on an 8-yard touchdown throw to D.J. Moore. With the score at 20-19, Ron Rivera opted to go for two rather than give Detroit the ball back with 1:07 left or go to overtime and the result (Newton missed an open Jarius Wright in the end zone) dropped Carolina to 6-4 on the season.

Rivera basically said he didn’t trust his kicker Graham Gano or his defense to get a stop.

“I think you go for two on the road to win the game - that’s what I did end of the day,” Rivera said, according to NFL.com’s Austin Knoblauch. “What’s to say the coin toss is going to in our favor or [what’s to say] we’re going to stop them.

”I was going for the win. That’s the bottom line.”

The Panthers return home to face 5-5 Seattle, a team that has an extra three days of rest on them thanks to their Thursday night matchup in Week 11. If the Seahawks get a win, they’ll move ahead of Carolina in the standings and should move them into at least the second wild card spot, if not the first.

The 5-3-1 Minnesota Vikings play the 6-3 Chicago Bears on Sunday night. The Bears hold a head-to-head tiebreak advantage over Seattle thanks to their Week 2 win over the Hawks, whereas the Seahawks host the Vikings later this season. It should benefit Seattle to see the Vikings lose this one, solidify the Bears as the winners of the NFC North, and drop Minnesota to 5-4-1 with a chance of dropping to 5-5-1 next week. If the stars aligned, the Seahawks would be in the first wild card spot by the end of Week 12.

First, Seattle needs to win in Carolina.

The Seahawks faced the Panthers just four times total from 1995-2009, but this will be the ninth meeting between the two teams since Pete Carroll arrived in 2010. Seattle is 6-2 in those games, including 3-1 on the road and 3-0 in Carolina in the regular season.

Rivera/Newton have averaged just 15.7 points per game against Carroll’s defense, with one of those games being the 31-24 playoff victory against the Seahawks in 2015. Even that included a scoreless second half. Seattle has averaged 29.5 points per game against the Panthers in their last four meetings, including a 40-7 victory in 2016. The Seahawks rushed for 240 yards and three touchdowns in that game, a story they’d like to retell next Sunday.

If they do, they’ll be back in the lead for a playoff spot with five December games, including four at home and two against the San Francisco 49ers, left to go.

This team really is tough to put away.