NFL Preview - Seattle (0-0) at Carolina (0-0)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Seattle Seahawks are a stylish pick to represent the
NFC in this year's Super Bowl and the long and winding road begins Sunday
against the host Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.
Seattle came close to advancing to last season's conference championship game,
losing in the waning seconds at Atlanta in the divisional round. The Seahawks
went 11-5 a year ago, the best mark since going 10-6 in 2007, and are pegged
to compete with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West.
The Seahawks owe a lot of last season's success to quarterback Russell Wilson,
who beat out Matt Flynn for the starting job as a rookie. Wilson never
relinquished his golden opportunity and because of that the Seahawks have high
hopes for 2013. Wilson started all 16 games last season, going 8-0 at home,
and passed for 3,118 yards with 26 touchdown passes, tying Peyton Manning's
Wilson, who had a 100-plus passer rating in nine games in 2012 and exceeded
all expectations, will try not to struggle through the so-called sophomore
slump now that opposing defenses will be keying in on last April's third-round
draft choice. Head coach Pete Carroll is confident in his signal caller and
knows Wilson makes everyone around him that much better.
"Russell is the kind of player that will affect other guys," Carroll said
recently. "He affects everybody around him and hopefully that will help
everybody play better."
Seattle has reached the playoffs twice in the previous three seasons and was
riding a six-game winning streak until falling to the Falcons at the Georgia
Dome. The Seahawks overcame a 20-0 deficit to make it interesting and the
outcome could have been different had Marshawn Lynch been able to find an
opening across the offensive line. Lynch is another star for the Seahawks and
perhaps gives the team a better chance to win than Wilson.
As difficult as that may be to believe, Lynch has been born again in the
Pacific Northwest and Carroll will feed the hard-charging back as much as
possible. Lynch has transformed himself into one of the top backs in the
league and was third in the NFL last season with a career-high 1,590 rushing
yards. Lynch had 100 or more yards rushing in eight of the final 10 games in
2012 and leads the NFL with 2,531 rushing yards since Nov. of 2011.
The Seahawks have lost two straight and three of their last four season
openers and are winless in the past three lid-lifters on the road. They
haven't won a season opener on the road since Sept. 10, 2006 at Detroit and
will start the season away from home for the 10th time in 14 years.
Carolina has missed the playoffs each of the past four years and, like
Seattle, is counting on big things in 2013. Quarterback Cam Newton set the bar
high this offseason by saying: "The time is now."
Newton said that during a radio interview and touched on how the atmosphere is
much different than a year ago. Whether the new attitude serves a purpose in
2013 is unknown, but Newton is saying all the right things.
"We're looking at the small things that can make a big difference. It starts
here in practice. We can't hold ourselves accountable to a standard in a game
if we don't do it in practice," Newton said. "That's been something of a
different vibe in practice. It's been working out for us."
The Panthers enter the new season with a chip on their shoulder and teams
should be wary of what they could do. After a lowly 1-6 start a season ago,
the team was able to come together and finish strong, going 6-3 the rest
of the way with four straight victories to close the season.
Carolina hasn't had a winning season since 2008, when it was 12-4, and
finished the 2009 campaign at 8-8. Head coach Ron Rivera was given a pass by
owner Jerry Richardson in January, when it was confirmed he will return for a
third season. But 2013 could be his last if the Panthers fail to meet
requirements. Carolina was 6-10 in Rivera's first season, but the team rallied
at the end of 2012 to finish 7-9. The four-game winning streak to end the
season gave hope to Rivera.
"We played a lot of young players who gained valuable experience that should
help us in the coming season," Rivera said. "There are a lot of positives to
take away from last season, but they are only meaningful if we learn from them
Carolina has lost four straight season openers.
Sunday's matchup between the Panthers and Seahawks will be the sixth in the
regular season. The teams split the first four encounters, then the Seahawks
won last season's meeting, 16-12, on Oct. 7 in the Tar Heel State.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Newton has been all the rage the past two seasons in which he's amassed 7,920
passing yards. He is the only quarterback with 500-plus rushing yards in each
of his first two seasons and shouldn't have to shoulder the ground load with
DeAngelo Williams in the backfield.
But Lynch deserves some credit, too, for his transformation in Seattle. How
Lynch goes, the Seahawks will go this season. The Panthers and Seahawks have
similar dilemmas with athletic QBs and an above average backfield, but
Seattle has the edge with Lynch.
Once Lynch gets into "Beast Mode" he's pretty tough to stop. He leads the NFL
with 16 100-yard rushing games since 2011 and has hit that mark in 16 of his
last 25 games. While Wilson has Sidney Rice and Golden Tate to throw passes
to, it may be easier for him to just stick the ball into Lynch's midsection.
Lynch, the third player (Chris Warren, Shaun Alexander) in Seahawks history to
rush for 1,500 yards in a season, came within one touchdown of matching his
career-high of 13 back in 2011. Lynch has a streak of four straight 100-yard
rushing games alive to start the 2013 campaign for the Seahawks, who have
compiled 100-plus rushing yards in 21 of the past 25 games. Lynch ran for 85
yards on 21 carries in last year's game against Carolina.
Since Week 9 of 2011, Seattle's 3,791 yards ranks first in the NFL.
The Panthers, though, will counter Lynch and the Seattle offense with second-
year stud linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was the NFL's top tackler his rookie
season with 164 stops. Kuechly helped turn around Carolina's defense by
season's end and earned the praise of his teammates.
"He's done a fantastic job. He just makes plays. He's a young guy who didn't
come in entitled. He was real eager to learn. He takes notes," Panthers star
wide receiver Steve Smith said. "It doesn't surprise me how much success he's
having. I think he hasn't even cracked the surface."
Smith will have an interesting matchup with Seahawks flamboyant and trash-
talking cornerback Richard Sherman, who helped contain Carolina's top wideout
to the tune of 40 yards on four catches.
Left defensive end Charles Johnson recorded a team-leading and a career-high
12 1/2 sacks last season and is Carolina's top pass rusher. Johnson has posted
33 1/2 sacks over the past three seasons and hopes to contain Wilson and
Seattle ground attack.
Seattle's defensive front is nicked up and that will most likely lead to its
demise Sunday. Sack leader Chris Clemons will not be 100 percent because of
his rehab from anterior cruciate ligament knee surgery in January. Clemons,
though, was activated from the PUP list during final roster cuts to avoid
missing the first six games.
"To take the next step he needs to start pushing people and all that," Carroll
said of Clemons. "He's coming along great, and he's making great progress."
Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane (groin), Tony McDaniel (groin) and rookie
Jordan Hill (strained biceps) are all questionable because of injuries, while
offseason acquisition Cliff Avril is nursing a hamstring issue.
The turf at Bank of America Stadium will need re-surfacing when the Panthers
and Seahawks are through Sunday. In a matchup between teams aiming to exceed
last season's expectations, it will come down to which defense makes stops and
gets off the field often.
Even though Carolina has a chip on its shoulder from last season's late
success, the Seahawks are a more polished bunch and losing on opening weekend
will be detrimental to their psyche.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 21, Panthers 17
09/05 11:24:36 ET
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