By Dave Thomas

If you want to be the best, they oftentimes say you have to beat the best. For the Seattle Seahawks, the idea of a rematch with the top-seeded Carolina Panthers is no doubt something they have been looking forward to since dropping a 27-23 home decision to the Panthers earlier this season. The question now for both teams, will that earlier season encounter mean anything heading into this Sunday’s divisional playoff meeting in Charlotte?

As anyone who watched this past Sunday’s thrilling 10-9 Seattle win over Minnesota in the NFC Wild Card round knows, the Seahawks were down and out for the better portion of three quarters before rallying for 10 fourth-quarter points. Even after doing that, they had to withstand a 27-year Blair Walsh field goal attempt that sailed left, giving Seattle another day to play, while sending the Vikings into a long and bitter winter.

With the Minnesota game in the rear-view mirror, Seattle now turns its attention to Cam Newton and the league’s top team during the regular season.

Carolina’ Offense Coasted Much Of Season

Down in Charlotte, the Panthers all but devoured the rest of the league during the regular season, missing out on a perfect campaign only in a loss at Atlanta. Carolina (15-1), which lost in the NFC playoffs a season ago at Seattle, got some revenge in the regular season by going into the Pacific Northwest and topping the Seahawks by four points. While they typically say you can throw out the records and results from regular season meetings, there is little doubt both teams learned a lot about one another.

For Seattle, it must find a way to relatively contain Newton, thought by many to be this season’s MVP. Heading into this Sunday’s playoff encounter, Newton has thrown for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns. When he’s not doing it with his arm, the former Auburn star has amassed 636 yards on the ground. While Newton is certainly a threat to run with the ball, Carolina’s primary rushing weapon is that of Jonathan Stewart, who has 989 yards rushing and six TD’s on the season.

Through the air, Carolina turns to former Chicago Bear tight end, Greg Olson, who comes into this Sunday’s meeting with 1,104 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. Newton can also turn to wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who has totaled 739 yards and 10 TD’s on the season.

Panthers’ Defense Is Certainly No Cake Walk

After mustering a mere 10 points against Minnesota, the Seahawks will have to do a much better job of moving the ball and putting points on the board come Sunday if they want a trip to the NFC Championship game Jan. 24 against either Arizona or Green Bay. Looking to stop the Seahawks in their tracks for Carolina will be the likes of Luke Kuechly (118 total tackles), Kurt Coleman (seven INT’s) and Kawann Short (11 sacks).

For the season, Carolina’s defense has allowed on average 19.2 points per game and nearly 323 yards a game. With those numbers, the Panthers come into Sunday’s meeting with sixth-ranked defense in the NFL.

In order for Seattle to come out of Charlotte with a victory, the keys will include:

  • Getting off to a good start in keeping the Panthers’ crowd out of the game.
  • Being more productive moving and scoring the ball than it was in Minnesota.
  • Giving Wilson ample protection so that he’s not under pressure all day.
  • Keeping Newton from having a big day (get pressure on him and take away his running lanes).

While Sunday’s task at hand is undoubtedly a big one, don’t bet against a Seattle team that is no stranger to big-time playoff games.

Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.

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