When the 2016 NFL schedule was released, the Week 13 Sunday night matchup between the Panthers and Seahawks in Seattle looked like one of the most important NFC games of the season. It’s still important for Seattle, but Carolina has been the biggest disappointment in the NFL this year and their playoff hopes are all but dead entering this game. You can officially bury the defending NFC champions with a loss here, and they are solid underdogs on Sports Interaction’s football odds.
Carolina Panthers vs. Seattle Seahawks
Point spread: Seahawks -7
Date: Sunday, Dec. 4, 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: CenturyLink Field, Seattle
The Panthers (4-7) would absolutely have to win out to have any shot at the playoffs, and with tough games still remaining at Washington and Tampa Bay and home to San Diego and Atlanta, I don’t see that happening. Not even sure a 9-7 record would do it.
Carolina has played better since entering its Week 7 bye at 1-5, but in essence the season was officially lost last Sunday in Oakland. Cam Newton had the worst first half of his NFL career, going 3-for-12 for 18 yards with an interception. The Panthers trailed the AFC West-leading Raiders 24-7. But then Newton woke up after the break and led Carolina to 25 straight points and a 32-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. However, the injury-ravaged defense allowed a 12-yard Derek Carr TD pass and 2-point conversion with 8:37 to go, and Sebastian Janikowski kicked the winning 23-yard field goal with 1:45 left.
Newton did drive the Panthers to the Oakland 44 after the Janikowski kick, but Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen dropped a pass on third down that would have put Carolina in field goal range at minimum. Then Newton was strip-sacked on fourth down. Newton is not playing anywhere near his 2015 NFL MVP level as he is just the 27th-rated QB in the league and isn’t running nearly as much or as well. But to be fair, his offensive line has been beaten up all year and a major problem.
The Carolina defense badly misses Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman, who was allowed leave in free agency. That unit played Oakland without the best middle linebacker in football, Luke Kuechly (concussion), as well as end and team sack leader Mario Addison (foot). It’ s not yet clear if either will return here.
Instead of traveling back to the East Coast and then flying back out west this week, Carolina is practicing at San Jose State in northern California. The Panthers are 3-7-1 against the spread this season and 1-3-1 ATS on the road.
I don’t want to say I saw the Seahawks (7-3-1) losing this past Sunday at Tampa Bay, but it didn’t surprise me at all as it was a bit of a trap game following big wins and plenty of travel vs. Buffalo, New England and Philadelphia.
Still, Seattle’s offensive effort in the 14-5 defeat was a bit troubling. It had just 245 yards of offense and was 1-for-11 on third down. Russell Wilson‘s MVP chances likely ended as he was 17-for-33 for 151 yards and two interceptions in his lowest-rated game of the season. He did rush for 80 yards. Seattle also turned it over three times and saw Wilson be sacked on six occasions and hit many more. On 11 possessions, Wilson & Co. punted seven times, turned it over those three and had one field goal. If there’s one major weakness on the Seahawks, it’s also the offensive line. Center Justin Britt missed Week 12 with an ankle injury but he’s expected back.
In one respect, that loss didn’t hurt Seattle as it still holds a three-game lead in the NFC West and it’s going to win the division barring an epic collapse. But it will be tough now for the Seahawks to catch Dallas for the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC. The Hawks do have the second seed in their sights.
Seattle’s defense is likely to get back All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, probably the best in the business, this week after he missed the first game of his career vs. the Bucs due to injury. Cornerback DeShawn Shead is also expected back, while defensive end Michael Bennett might play for the first time since Oct. 23.
Panthers vs. Seahawks Predictions
These clubs met twice last year. In the regular season, the Panthers pulled off a 27-23 upset in the Pacific Northwest. Down 23-14, Carolina went 80 yards on each of its final two possessions for touchdowns. The last was a Newton 26-yard pass to Olsen with 32 seconds to go. In the NFC divisional playoffs in Charlotte, Carolina won 31-24 — jumping out to a 31-0 halftime lead and hanging on for dear life. I recommend Seattle here, but give the 6.5 points at -118. Go under the total.