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ESNY’s NFL Divisional Round Preview

Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

Had it not been -5 degrees in Minnesota last weekend, the Seattle Seahawks may not have made it past the Wild Card round. But thanks to Blair Walsh‘s frozen foot, Seattle escaped their NFC Wild Card matchup with the Vikings, defeating them by a score of 10-9, and will now have a shot at redemption as they travel to North Carolina to take on the Panthers.

Carolina beat the Seahawks in Seattle earlier this season (which is no easy task) on a last-minute Cam Newton touchdown pass to Greg Olsen. The win brought Carolina’s record to 5-0 and it was perhaps the first game in which the rest of the football world realized that Newton and his team were legit.

Any time a team beats the Seahawks in Seattle they’re going to take it personal, which is exactly why this game figures to be such a great matchup. That, and a few other things.

Though it may seem like Seattle’s defense has taken a step down from their dominant play in years past, they finished as the second ranked defense in 2015 (2nd pass, 1st rush). And they still boast one of the most talented secondaries in the league–the Legion of Boom, consisting of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and DeShawn Shead, is now faced with the task of stopping Cam Newton.

Despite his extreme lack of receiving threats on the outside, Newton finished the regular season with 3,837 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. It was on the ground though where he did the most damage, rushing for 636 yards for 10 more touchdowns on 132 carries (4.8 ypc).

Seattle will also rely on their young, running quarterback to get their offense moving against another one of the league’s top defenses in Carolina. Wilson though, unlike Newton, will have an elite running back at full health to help him do so. His legal name is Marshawn, but during the football season (and especially in the playoffs) he goes by “BEAST MODE”.

Nobody knows what to expect from Marshawn Lynch on Sunday, but if he can be half of what he’s been for this team the last three years in the playoffs the Seahawks will win this game. Russell Wilson is going to have a very hard time finding an open receiver against Josh Norman and company, which is why Lynch’s return is so crucial.

The presence of Beast Mode in the backfield alone will force Carolina to stack the box and though that’s an area that they typically thrive in, that’s the last thing they want to do against Seattle’s offense. Pete Carroll has become much more fond of taking shots downfield now that he has a speedster at wide receiver in Tyler Lockett to spread the defense out.

If Lynch can be productive on the ground it will open up opportunities for Lockett and company downfield, and as soon as Russell completes a deep pass that will in turn create space for Lynch up front. Of course, the same can be said for Newton/Stewart and Ted Ginn Jr.. If Cam and J. Stew can get the running game going it will create space downfield for Ginn, and Newton’s an even better downfield passer than Wilson.

But if this game turns out to be the defensive, run-heavy battle that many believe it will be, the scale tips in Seattle’s direction. That is, if Marshawn Lynch can channel his inner Beast Mode.

Prediction: Seattle 20, Carolina 16

I'm a senior journalism and communications major at THE University of Connecticut, as well as a die hard Jets and Knicks fan. College football and basketball have their place in my heart, but the NFL is my pride and joy.