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Panthers Will Be 'Formidable Opponent' For Seahawks In NFC Divisional Playoff

SeahawksPanthers.jpg
Chris Keane
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AP Images for Panini
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin works to make a catch against Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman during a game in Charlotte, N.C. on Oct. 26, 2014. The Seahawks won 13-9.

The Seahawks host the Carolina Panthers Saturday night in the NFC divisional playoff game. Kickoff is 5:15 at CenturyLink Field.

KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says it's not going to be the cake walk that many Seahawks fans may be expecting.Don't Let Their Record Fool You

The Panthers won their division with a 7-8-1 record. But Art says it means nothing. "I think that would be a foolish thing to focus on if you’re a Seahawks fan," he said. The Seahawks were in the same boat five years ago.

Beast Quake 2010

"The Seahawks in 2010 became the first team in NFL history to win a division with a losing record (7-9). And in their first playoff game they beat the defending Super Bowl champions the New Orleans Saints by a score of 41-36 in the game known as the 'Beast Quake Game,'" Art said.

"That's when Marshawn Lynch launched his immortal run, where he knocked down about 78 people and caused a seismic event at CenturyLink," Art mused.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIKUs-YSx7k

Losing Record 'Means Nothing'

Art says the Panthers' record is irrelevant for this matchup.

"The Panthers have already won a playoff game – they beat Arizona. Of course, so did Seattle 35-6, but a playoff game is a playoff game," he said. “Yes, it’s a foreign environment; it’s a difficult place to win at The CLink. But they’ve had a series of events that have really hardened them to everything the Seahawks can deliver."

Panthers' Sack Of Woe

Last spring, the Panthers' star wide receiver Steve Smith left the team in an acrimonious departure. Then one of their top defensive players, Greg Hardy, was arrested on a domestic violence charge.

In December, starting quarterback Cam Newton injured two vertebrae in his back in a car accident that wasn't his fault. And this past Monday, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and his family escaped unharmed from a fire in their home that caused about $500,000 in damage.

“They’ve survived all this," Art said. "And they’re coming into this game on a real high note because they know they can play with these guys.”

'Evenly Matched'

The last three times these two teams have met have been in Charlotte. The Seahawks will have the 12th Man noise advantage at CenturyLink Field on Saturday. But, other than that, Art says the teams are evenly matched.

"The three games in Charlotte were won by the Seahawks by a combined total of 13 points, including this year. It was a very tight game won in the last minute (13-9)," he said. 

Art says the Panthers have a strong quarterback in Cam Newton. And their star running back Jonathan Stewart is a graduate of Timberline High School in Lacey.

"He remains the leading rusher in state high school history," Art said. "He went to the University of Oregon where he was a star. And he’s been a seven-year pro in the NFL. This is his best year. He’s going to be a formidable task to bring down for the Seahawks’ defense.

“So, they’ve got a lot of things going — including, I think, probably the best front seven outside of Seattle on their defensive side. I really think this is going to be close to a dead even match.”

So Who's Going To Win?

“I’m going to say the Seahawks are going to prevail, but it’s going to be a tooth-pull,” Art predicted. “A lot of Seahawks fans are thinking, ‘Ah, we’re going to walk over these guys.’ No, not gonna happen."

“I can see it being undecided going into the fourth quarter and I can see the Seahawks pulling out something like a 19-13 win at the end. But I think it’s going to be a very tight, taut Saturday night for Seahawks fans.”

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You can find Art Thiel’s work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.

Kirsten Kendrick has been hosting Morning Edition on KNKX/KPLU since 2006. She has worked in news radio for more than 30 years. Kirsten is also a sports lover. She handles most sports coverage at the station, including helping produce a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the ongoing series "Going Deep."
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between historylink.org and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.
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