Seahawks V. Panthers: 'This Is The Super Bowl'
This Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game between the Seahawks and Panthers IS the Super Bowl, as far as KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel is concerned.
'Two Best Teams'
Thiel said Sunday's game is "for all the marbles."
"This is the Super Bowl," he said.
The 15-1 Panthers are hosting the 10-6 Seahawks in a rematch of last year's NFC divisional playoff game, which the Seahawks won 31-17. The Panthers beat the Seahawks earlier this season 27-23 - a game the Seahawks gave away in the fourth quarter.
"These are the two best teams left in the field," Thiel said.
He said not even the Patriots are better. "They're on a slide. They've lost four of their last six games. They had a bye last week, as did Carolina, which was certainly to their advantage. But I don't think they're the team that's going to emerge out of the AFC.
"I think the Seahawks and Panthers are the two best teams left in the NFC, even better than Arizona. So, this is it. Although, I must say, whoever comes out of this is going to come out of it beat up and bruised because these are two tough, physical teams."
Thiel said the Seahawks' win last Sunday against the Vikings in Minnesota was a lesson in perseverance.
"It very impressive to grind away in sub-zero temperatures and prevail (10-9).
"Yes, the guy missed the kick. But, you know what? That isn't luck. That's human error. And he missed it because Richard Sherman scared him on the previous field goal attempt. So, he rushed his kick.
"He missed it. Not luck. It's perseverance. And the Seahawks are very good at that," he said.
Will Lynch Play?
Running back Marshawn Lynch returned to practice last week for the first time since having hernia surgery in late November. But he didn't make the trip to Minnesota. Thiel said that came as a surprise to coach Pete Carroll.
"He said he wasn't ready to play. That's Marshawn. We all have to take his word for it. But there's also something going on with Marshawn and the Seahawks management," he continued.
"Not his teammates. He's always put out for his teammates. He's a very dedicated and ferocious competitor. But I think there's some contract resentment going on here.
"I think that he delivers his little passive-aggressive message by, maybe, not playing and using the injury as an excuse."
Seahawks 'Had To Adjust'
Lynch had surgery Nov. 25. He missed the last seven games of the regular season as well as a few games before the surgery. The Seahawks replaced him with impressive rookie Thomas Rawls, until Rawls suffered a broken ankle.
"The Seahawks are 8-2 without Marshawn Lynch in the starting lineup," Thiel said. "They're having to patch the running game together. And they've done so by winning eight of the 10 games.
"There really is a shift that has gone on in the Seahawks' offense. They're not as predictable as they were when Marshawn was healthy. Teams started to gang up on Marshawn on first or second down. They can't do that now.
"The Seahawks are a much more efficient passing team," Thiel continued. "They're not necessarily passing it much more. They're just doing it much better. As a consequence, Marshawn is no longer the focal point of the offense."
Thiel predicts Lynch will play on Sunday and do well, and that the Seahawks will win 26-23.