RENTON, Wash. – Beyond how cold they were and all that happened in their latest, looney adventure, the Seahawks essentially Jimmy Valvano-ed.
They survived. And advanced.
And now they are renewed.
The winners in last weekend’s 10-9 escape past the Vikings in a Minneapolis deep freeze know they are headed to where it will be nearly 55 degrees warmer on Sunday. That’s Charlotte, North Carolina, where it is predicted to be 45 degrees for the NFC divisional playoff game between sixth-seeded Seattle (11-6) and No. 1 seed Carolina (15-1)
“It will be great to get back to normality,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said.
Normal, as in Sherman’s eyelashes aren’t going to freeze together in Charlotte. They did during the win at Minnesota in last weekend’s wild-card round.
The temperatures aren’t the only things that are going to be familiar for Seattle at Carolina. The opponent is, too.
This will be the sixth game between the Seahawks and Panthers in the last four seasons, and the third in 12 months.
In October the Seahawks blew a 23-14 lead with 5 minutes remaining at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. They lost on a Cam Newton pass down the center of the field to wide-open tight end Greg Olsen with 26 seconds left. Sherman was in one, correct coverage while the rest of the Seahawks’ defensive backs were in the wrong one.
On Jan. 10, 2015, also in Seattle, Newton’s 31-yard pass to Olsen got Carolina inside the Seahawks 20 with 6 minutes left in a 24-10 playoff game. Kam Chancellor then intercepted Newton and ran 90 yards the other way for the clinching touchdown in Seattle’s 31-17 win in last postseason’s divisional round. That sent the Seahawks back to the NFC championship game.
That is one of Carolina’s two losses in its last 21 games dating to November 2014.
The Seahawks have in the last two years been where these Panthers – undefeated until the next-to-last week of this regular season – are trying to get: to the Super Bowl. Seattle enters Bank of America Stadium Sunday trying to become the first team in the NFL’s salary-cap era that began in 1994 to reach three straight Super Bowls.
“If you can be the best, beat the best,” Panthers standout cornerback Josh Norman told Charlotte-area media members in the team’s locker room this week.
Carolina enters as the league’s highest-scoring team, at 31 points per game. The Panthers are the second-ranked rushing offense and are getting back running back Jonathan Stewart. Stewart missed the last three regular-season games with a sprained foot yet still gained 989 yards on the season.
“The Panthers are a great team, and that will be a special game,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said.
His ability to disrupt Stewart and Newton in the Carolina backfield as he has against most foes this season will be key Sunday.
“We have had great battles with this team,” Bennett said. “And we always come back when it’s time to play championship football.”
The average of the final scores from the last five meetings in this series over the last three-plus years is Seattle 19, Carolina 14. Four of those five games have been decided by five points or fewer. As that average score indicates, Seahawks versus Panthers is usually grinding and rugged.
Even with how well Newton and the Panthers’ offense has been rolling, the Seahawks expect another street fight for a spot in next week’s NFC championship game.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s always fun when we play Carolina,” Sherman said. “It’s going to be a physical game, back and forth. Both teams are going to run it. Both teams are going to hit each other in the mouth.
“We’ll see who’s standing at the end.”
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