Continuing our pick'em previews of the divisional playoff games it is time to move on to Carolina's road trip to Seattle. Is it set to be one of the biggest mismatches ever in playoff history or is it set to be one of the great postseason upsets?
How they shape up : Panthers
By all accounts the prevailing feeling in the Panthers camp is that they are playing with house money. By getting to the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record they have been phenomenally lucky. After beating the Cardinals in the last round morale couldn't be higher in the Panthers camp.
On the downside though star defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is out after breaking his foot in a freak training accident.
How they shape up : Seahawks
Thanks to earning a bye through seeding the Seahawks have had the extra week to get fit and prepare for this game.
The early indications are that they have used the time well. Center Max Unger (knee/ankle), wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (hamstring), cornerback Tharold Simon (shoulder), tight end Cooper Helfet (ribs) and defensive end Demarcus Dobbs (ankle) are all set to return after missing the last game of the season. Even the enigmatic Marshawn Lynch managed full participant in practice this week.
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The only big absence will be tight end Tony Moeaki but he should be ably covered by Luke Wilson and the returning Helfet.
Seattle are well primed to open a jar of kickass on the Panthers.
How they win : Seahawks
Essentially, the Seahawks win by playing the way they have been playing since week 8 in the last week of October when they beat the Panthers. The game that day was in Carolina and the Seahawks only edged it 13-9.
They have gotten much better since then. With Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch leading the way on offense and the defense playing like the best in the NFL it is easy to understand why the Seahawks are heavy favorites.
How they win : Panthers
The glib answer would be they don't. In order to win this game several Panthers players would have to put on the sort of performance that marks them out for first round inclusion into the Hall of Fame at Canton.
Cam Newton in particular would have to deliver a magical performance at quarterback. This magic would have to go beyond the read option and moving the chains with his feet. Newton will have to step up to the plate and deliver a three hundred plus yards three touchdown, zero interception performance.
Cam is capable of these sort of performances but there is no suggestion in his recent form that such a performance is incipient. Against the Cardinals his footwork was a complete mess.
In short then the Panthers win if Newton, Stewart, the offensive and key defensive players play lights out great football. Good or even very good performances won't be enough.
Verdict - SEAHAWKS WIN
The only thing that could stop the Seahawks winning this one is the sort of overconfidence and poor planning that the Persian Empire didn't even stoop to at Thermopylae. The Seahawks will win this game without ever getting out of second gear.