You can only play the teams that are on your schedule and, so far, that schedule has been a cakewalk for the undefeated Carolina Panthers (4-0). Next week, coming off their bye, we’ll find out if that record is really reflective of how good this team is when they visit the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field (4:05 PM Eastern).
The Panthers offense was expected to take a big step back when they lost their top receiving threat, Kelvin Benjamin, before the year even began. But an early season run of sub-par opponents has the Panthers tied with the Falcons atop the NFC South. The Panthers aren’t in anyone’s discussion of the top teams in the NFL however, because they’ve yet to prove it against a top level opponent. A win over the Seahawks in Seattle would go along way in helping their case.
Despite being on pace for his lowest passing yardage and completion percentage, Cam Newton has arguably never played better. With defenses keying on tight end Greg Olsen, Newton has been throwing to a rag-tag bunch of castoffs and misfits. Targeting the likes of Ted Ginn Jr., Corey “Philly” Brown, and Jerricho Cotchery, Newton is leading an offense that is eighth in the NFL in points per game and has committed just three turnovers.
Though Carolina boasts a stacked front seven, cornerback Josh Norman has been the story of the year, already snaring four picks and taking two of them back to the house. Norman has strengthened a perceived position of weakness and has Panthers looking like a real threat to knock off the Hawks at home.
Those words might have sounded ridiculous heading into the season, but these are not the Seahawks of old. This year’s incarnation has been downright mediocre on offense, averaging 345 yards and 21.8 points per game (19th and 18th in the league, respectively), while the defense has been solid, but hasn’t generated the takeaways to make up for the lack of scoring. Despite having Russell Wilson – one of the league’s most mobile quarterbacks – Seattle has allowed an alarming 18 sacks so far this year; thanks to a subpar offensive line, their gameplan week-in and week-out hinges on having Wilson scramble to make plays, and even the most fleet-footed pivot will find himself on his backside when that’s your strategy.
The Seahawks subjected themselves to this awful pass protection when they traded center Max Unger for Jimmy Graham. In return, they’ve received 174 yards and two TDs – not a terrible contribution until you remember he was brought in to improve Seattle’s red zone offense, which still ranks near the bottom of the league.
Seattle has gotten a lot of credit for how their defense has looked since Kam Chancellor’s return, but take that success with a grain – nay, a boulder – of salt. They shutout a Jimmy Clausen-led Chicago offense and were one yard and a blown penalty away from losing to a terribly dysfunctional (not to mention winless) Lions team.
Don’t buy into the “Seattle is unbeatable at home” narrative. This is a different team with some big issues. If this opens with the classic Seattle by a touchdown or more line, jump all over it. The Panthers aren’t as good as their record, but they’re good enough to exploit the Seahawks’ weaknesses.
Straight-up pick: Panthers.
(Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)