Seahawks, Panthers chasing same wild-card possibilities
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The good news for the Carolina Panthers is they return home Sunday to face the Seattle Seahawks where they’ve won 10 straight games.
The bad news is it’s highly unlikely the Panthers will play a playoff game in Charlotte, North Carolina, if they reach the postseason.
The Seahawks (5-5) can relate.
They and the Panthers (6-4) essentially find themselves competing for wild-card spots in the NFC with six games remaining given their chances of winning a division title and hosting a postseason game appear remote. Carolina has lost two straight on the road and fallen 3 ½ games behind New Orleans in the NFC South, while the Seahawks trail the Los Angeles Rams by 4 ½ games in the NFC West.
“Right now, we can’t worry about what New Orleans is doing. We can’t worry about the playoff picture. We just have to win a game,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. “In this league, it’s so easy to get caught up in, ’If this team wins, if this team loses, (then) we can have home-field (advantage). ... Hey, if we don’t win some games, we’re not going to be in the playoffs.”
In terms of wild-card implications, this game looms as large as any in the NFC.
Currently, the Panthers would be one wild-card team, while the Minnesota Vikings would be the other. But that could all change if the Seahawks continue their recent dominance over the Panthers.
Russell Wilson is 5-2 against Cam Newton and Carolina.
He has averaged 270.3 yards passing per game with 11 touchdown passes and six interceptions. Newton, on the other hand, has struggled mightily against the Seahawks with nine turnovers and only five TD passes.
“They get after the quarterback,” Newton said when asked of his struggles against the Seahawks. “That’s what they do extremely well, and they’re very opportunistic in that. You know what they’re going to be in (defensively), they know you know what they’re going to be in, but they just play so fast and rally around the football.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wasn’t giving any hints as to how his team intends to slow one of the game’s most dangerous QBs.
“If I tell you, then that would help them, huh?” Carroll said.
MORE OF MOORE
D.J. Moore has been looking increasingly more like Carolina’s top receiver — and this week he may need to take on the role of No. 1 receiver with Devin Funchess listed as doubtful with a back injury that has kept him out of practice this week.
Moore, the team’s first-round draft pick, caught seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown in Carolina’s 20-19 loss to the Lions last week, including an 82-yard catch and run. Meanwhile, Funchess had a miserable game with five drops, including one in the end zone.
If Funchess is out, the Seahawks can expect to see more of second-year wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who has been explosive in his limited playing time.
Frank Clark is having a standout year in a contract season for the Seahawks. Clark has already tied his career high with 10 sacks with another six games to go. He has been a consistent threat off the edge and has seven sacks in the past five games.
While Clark has been a menace, Seattle is still seeking a complementary pass rusher to work with Clark. Defensive tackle Jarran Reed is second on the team with 5 ½ sacks, but no other player has more than two.
Seattle had five sacks of Aaron Rodgers, but Carroll warned Newton is a completely different challenge.
“I’m hoping that that will be a part again because if you noticed, we broke the pocket down and that’s important to do with Cam as well because he can get out and really scorch you too,” Carroll said.
The Panthers realize they need to get some pressure on Wilson and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
That hasn’t been Carolina’s strength this season as it ranks 23rd in the league in sacks entering the week with 23. Carolina isn’t getting much penetration inside, where defensive tackle Kawann Short has gone nine straight games without a sack after registering two in the season opener against Dallas.
Wilson is expecting a close game.
“We know these games against Carolina have always come down to the wire,” Wilson said. “We have a lot of respect for how they play the game. They play the game the right way, they play the game fast and physical, they play the game smart.”
Seattle has the top running game in the NFL and it continues to be a collaborative effort. Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis all have had 100-yard games this season.
Carson is clearly the primary ball carrier and had 17 carries for 83 yards in Seattle’s win over Green Bay last week. But Penny has been earning more opportunities as his rookie year has progressed, and Davis was the closer for Seattle against the Packers as the one getting carries on the final drive.
Seattle has rushed for at least 150 yards as a team in seven straight games.
Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed an extra point and a field goal in Carolina’s 20-19 loss to the Lions last week. So when coach Ron Rivera opted to go for 2 in the game’s final seconds instead of tying the game, it appeared to show a lack of confidence in his veteran kicker.
However, Gano returns home this week where he has made 39 straight field goals.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.