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Seahawks, Panthers very familiar with each other

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Panthers coach Ron Rivera says the Seahawks are starting to feel a little like a division opponent.

The teams meet today for the sixth time in four years and for the second straight season in the NFC division round. Seattle has won four of the previous five including a 31-17 playoff victory last year at home.

But this time it's a little different.

Not only is today's game in Charlotte, where the top-seeded Panthers (15-1) have won 11 straight, but the Seahawks face a Carolina team that's more confident and battled-tested.

Some of that stems from Carolina's 27-23 win over the two-time defending NFC champions in Week 6 when Cam Newton hit tight end Greg Olsen for a 26-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left.

The Panthers say that win helped spark their 14-0 start.

"It was just a matter of getting over that hump," All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman said.

It led Panthers safety Roman Harper to declare: "We are the better team."

In many ways, the Seahawks and Panthers are mirror images.

They both have dynamic quarterbacks who can make plays with their arms and their feet; strong running games led by powerful, bruising backs; and defenses that excel at keeping the opposition out of the end zone.

But the most intriguing matchup might be Carolina's No. 1 scoring offense against Seattle's defense, which has allowed the fewest points in the league.

Newton is the first quarterback to throw for 35 touchdowns and run for 10 in a season.

"This is the most diversified offense that we see, and the dynamics of what Cam is able to do and the way that they're willing to run with him makes this a really difficult offense to prepare for," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.

Seattle's offense, meanwhile, is getting a key piece back. Marshawn Lynch is expected to play for the first time since having abdominal surgery in November.

And Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart makes his return after missing the last three games with a foot injury.

On defense, the Panthers had 44 sacks, sixth in the league, but veteran defensive ends Charles Johnson and Jared Allen have combined for just three. Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner didn't play in the first meeting with Carolina and could be a major factor; he had 114 tackles this season.

Seahawks at Panthers, 1, Ch. 13, 1040-AM

Line/OU: Panthers by 21/2; 44

Including playoffs, Seattle has won franchise-record six straight road games. It is 5-2 when trailing by nine points or more in postseason since 2010. It has not allowed 100-yard rusher in 27 straight games, including playoffs. Russell Wilson has thrown multiple TD passes in six of past seven games. Doug Baldwin had 11 TD catches in five-game span this season and had TD catch in playoff win vs. Vikings. Defense allowed NFL-low 14 TD passes. Carolina has won 11 straight at home. It's 1-3 all time after having playoff bye. It scored NFL-best and franchise-record 500 points in regular season. Cam Newton is first QB to throw for 35 TDs and run for 10 in same season. His 45 TDs are tied for most ever by QB. Carolina has run for at least 100 yards in 27 straight games. Jonathan Stewart is expected after missing past three games with foot injury. K Graham Gano has had four kicks blocked this season. Panthers led NFL with 39 takeaways. LB Luke Kuechly led team with 118 tackles.

Seahawks, Panthers very familiar with each other 01/16/16 [Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2016 9:46pm]
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