Let the fun begin. We are a mere six days from the Seahawks first playoff game of the season. Coverage increases for playoff games, and much of it settles for the superficial. Storylines are already being written for this game. Let us take a moment to start the week by examining which of those are true and which are not.
#1 – This will be an easy game for Seattle
The Seahawks open as 11 point favorites over the Panthers. There have been 25 times that a road team has been an underdog by 11 points or more in the playoffs. Those teams are 4-21 straight up, and have failed to cover the spread nearly half the time (12/25). The Seahawks have opened their playoff run nine times at home. Six of those nine games were decided by seven points or less, and the three others were still in question heading into the fourth quarter. Many Seahawks fans choose to sell their tickets for these opening games when they think there is a good chance of getting their NFC Championship tickets paid for. That usually leads to less experienced fans attending who come to experience the game more than impact the game.
VERDICT: False. There is no such thing as an easy playoff game, especially the first one of the season.
#2 – Carolina’s defense is red hot
It is true that the Panthers have risen from 27th in the NFL yards allowed in Week 7 to 10th by the end of the year. They also set a playoff record by holding the Cardinals to 78 yards of total offense this weekend. Luke Kuechly is one of the NFL’s best players. Charles Johnson is a superior edge rusher. Linebacker Thomas Davis is among the most underrated defensive players in football. But take another look at their climb from Week 7 onward in terms of points allowed:
Lost vs. Seattle 13-9
Lost vs. New Orleans 28-10
Lost @ Philadelphia 45-21
Lost vs. Atlanta 19-17
Lost @ Minnesota 31-13
Won @ New Orleans 41-10
Won vs. Tampa Bay 19-17
Won vs. Cleveland 17-13
Won @ Atlanta 34-3
That means they allowed an average of 27.2 ppg in games 8-12 before holding their last four regular season opponents to 10.1 ppg. Those four games were all against losing teams, and two were against scoring offenses ranked 27th or lower. Ryan Lindley and the Cardinals managed to score 16 points. What’s more, the Panthers gave up a whopping 5.0 yards per carry during those last four games, which was the fourth-worst total in the NFL over that span. The Seahawks led the NFL at 3.05 YPC during that time.
VERDICT: False. They are playing well but have yet to prove themselves against a good opponent.
#3 – This is a different Seahawks team than what Carolina faced earlier
The Seahawks were missing Bobby Wagner, Max Unger, Byron Maxwell, Jordan Hill and Jeremy Lane for the first game against Carolina. It was Tharold Simon’s and Paul Richardon’s second start. It was the second game after the Percy Harvin trade, and the Seahawks had yet to rediscover their identity on offense. Robert Turbin was playing fullback after Derrick Coleman was lost a week prior and Will Tukuafu was not on the roster. Kam Chancellor was questionable heading into that game, and ended up missing the next two to heal.
The personnel differences alone are significant. The level of play is an even greater difference. Seattle was allowing somewhere near a 100.0 opponent passer rating and 23.5 ppg heading into that game. They have allowed 11.3 ppg in the ten games (including the Panther win) since.
#4 – This is a different Panthers team than what Seattle faced earlier
Carolina had one of the NFL’s worst passing defenses when they went up against Seattle. They made two changes in their secondary that have greatly improved their play. Bene Benwikere is now a starting cornerback, and their highest-rated corner according to ProFootballFocus.com. Tre Boston entered as free safety and has done a nice job, including nabbing an interception in his first playoff game. Kawann Short has also received more starting reps at defensive tackle over Colin Cole, and has performed well.
The Panthers offensive line is young and was mostly atrocious early in the season, but two changes there have helped stabilize the level of play. Mike Remmers took over at right tackle and Andrew Norwell became the left guard. Neither player is a world beater, but they are positives who replaced clear negatives, and have helped get the running game going.
VERDICT: Overplayed. Boston, Short, and Norwell all played against Seattle. Benewikere is the best addition, but has little impact against a run-focused Seahawks offense.
#5 – Carolina needs turnovers to win
The Panthers had 19 scoring drives during their four-game win streak to end the regular season. Over 25% of those were started with a turnover. Seahawks opponents have had 65 drives against Seattle during this six game win streak. Only nine of those drives ended in points, and only two of those nine scoring drives were over 60 yards. It is worth noting the Panthers defense was second in the NFL in that stat, allowing just five scoring drives of over 60 yards in their final six games.
VERDICT: True. Carolina does not have an offense capable of beating the Seahawks on their own.