It’s Week 14, and the Seattle Seahawks currently occupy the seventh seed in the NFC playoff race, and they will need a victory over the Carolina Panthers Sunday at Lumen Field in order to maintain their hold on that last Wild Card spot. The Washington Commanders, enjoying a late season bye, sit ready to back into the last playoff spot in the conference should the Hawks falter at home against Sam Darnold and company.
Joining Field Gulls this week is Walker Clement of Cat Scratch Reader, who took the time to answer my questions ahead of the matchup.
1. It’s been a roller coaster of a season between a coaching change and acquiring Baker Mayfield and then releasing him. How are fans handling all the change, and is there optimism for the future?
Fans had optimism for the future when they wanted Matt Rhule fired at the end of last season. Now we are struggling to believe in the decision makers who kept Rhule after an abysmal first two years only to fire him midway through the third. That’s not to say anybody wanted Rhule hear for longer than he was, just that sometimes we value process as much as results.
The quarterback carousel is nothing new at this point, unfortunately. A lot of fans are placing that firmly on the now-ousted brain trust that brought us the parade of Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, PJ Walker, Cam Newton, Sam Darnold again, and Baker Mayfield. Blame directed outside of the current organization and a couple of wins under the confident leadership of interim head coach Steve Wilks has some fans believing again. That’ll all change when the fanbase fractures in the offseason into camps that want to retain Wilks as the permanent head coach and camps that are diehard believers in every other candidate under the sun.
In short, this team is still on the crazy train for at least another offseason. Everybody believes in something and somebody believes in everything.
2. It’s certainly been a rough season for the Panthers this far, but as of right now the Seahawks are the only team on the remainder of the schedule that has a winning record. Is there an outside shot at a run at the NFC South title for Carolina?
There is a mathematical possibility that the Panthers win the NFC South. They are two games behind the Bucs (6-6) with five games left to play, including one more against those Bucs. The Panthers are one game behind the second place Falcons (5-8). They won their first game against the Buccaneers and split their two games against the Falcons, which leaves them firmly in “there’s a chance” territory.
There is also a narrative reason to believe the Panthers will make the playoffs, for those of you who believe in fate, karma, anything of the sort. Carolina’s season has been chaos, Wilks has been a calming presence and an actual leader, but that hasn’t changed the fact that silly things and chaos are the most consistent hallmarks of a 2022 Panthers game. Nothing would be more chaotic or silly than this team making the playoffs. Thus, I root for little more than that exact eventuality. The only thing I would enjoy more would be if the Panthers tied their way through the rest of the season to a 4-8-5 record (which still could get them into the playoffs if the Bucs only win one more game).
3. The big news out of Carolina this week was, of course, the release of Baker Mayfield, who seems could very well be the Week 18 starter for the Rams against the Seahawks. How much of a surprise was that for Panthers fans, or was that something that some had anticipated?
Anticipation would require thought. Mayfield, unfortunately, had performed so poorly that Panthers fans did not spare him much thought when gaming out the rest of the season. His release was hardly a surprise, but it also wouldn’t have been shocking to see him simply on the bench. Further playing time would have risked the Panthers escalating the 2024 5th round draft pick that they traded to the Browns for Mayfield to a 2024 4th. Due to that alone, he wasn’t seeing another snap as a Panther.
4. Who is a player that Seahawks fans are unlikely to be familiar with who is likely to be a factor in the matchup this Sunday?
Myles Hartsfield most often plays at safety, but is the Panthers jack-of-all-trades defensive back. He isn’t a general role player because he isn’t good enough to play one role, he fills everything from slot corner to box safety with equal talent. He isn’t the best defensive back in the league, or even on the Panthers, but he is good enough to make impactful plays in the running game and against a team’s third or fourth receivers.
Sam Franklin is also a name to keep an eye on. He is more completely a safety, but is also getting Pro Bowl votes as a special teams player. He is fast and has good instincts, it is only a matter of time and opportunity before he makes a big, highlight reel play.
5. DraftKings currently has the Seahawks as four point favorites, with the over/under at 44. What’s your prediction for the game, and will there be enough offense in the game to hit the over?
Everything comes down to how much pressure the Seahawks can put on Sam Darnold. Darnold’s main weakness in his last—and only to date—game this season was his slow processing speed. He held on to the ball too long and often threw balls a second too late. Heavy pressure and disguised coverages that either hasten or further slow his decisions could lead to a renaissance of the liability that Darnold was last season. That game will be a blow out by the third quarter. If Darnold can keep a clear head or even show that he has shaken off some of his rust, then this game could get interesting enough to hit the over.