The Panthers are playing for pride at this point. Falling to 4-7 following a loss against the Raiders in Oakland — Carolina’s second-straight gag to an AFC West team this season — probably ended the Panthers chances to make the playoffs, if those chances even existed before the Oakland game.Football Outsiders gives Carolina less than a 1 percent chance of making the dance, while 538 has the Panthers with a 3 percent chance to make the playoffs. Insert your own picture of Lloyd Christmas. The long story short is the Panthers won’t be in the playoffs for the fourth-straight year, but they can do a little bit to hurt a sneaky rival from snagging homefield advantage.Richard Sherman and the Seahawks are trash-talking a little bit ahead of the second-straight West Coast game for Carolina, saying the Panthers being bad this season is “karma” for Cam Newton snagging a 12th Man flag from the stands during Carolina’s win in Seattle last season.That’s probably not true, but it does guarantee both sides will be fired up for this game. Seattle needs the win, too. The Falcons and Lions are hot on the Seahawks heels for the No. 2 seed in the NFC (Dallas is close to pulling away with the top spot, having moved to 11-1 after beating the Vikings on Thursday night). Carolina very much has the ability to serve as a playoff seeding spoiler here. KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers and Seahawks have staged some memorable battles the past few years, but the teams are currently going in opposite directions. Seattle is headed for a fourth straight postseason, while Carolina’s playoff hopes are pretty much gone. Not only is 4-7 a big hole to climb out of, but the Panthers are too banged up on the offensive line to allow a late-season run. That means QB Cam Newton shouldn’t be expected to win this game by completing long, developing passes to his receivers. Instead, the Panthers need to make better use of their screen game and send plenty of targets toward TE Greg Olsen, who tore up the Seahawks last year with 13 catches, 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns in two matchups.On defense, the Panthers need to get after QB Russell Wilson, who was sacked 14 times the past four weeks, including six times last Sunday in Tampa Bay. That will be tougher for the Panthers to do without leading sack-getter Mario Addison, who is in Charlotte with a foot injury, so now would be a good time for DE Kony Ealy to have one of his increasingly rare productive games.The Seahawks will look to attack the Panthers’ 29th-ranked pass defense. However, protecting Wilson will be vitally important.Coach Pete Carroll regretted not running the ball more in Tampa, so expect the Seahawks to run more zone read with a healthy Wilson and Thomas Rawls. The Seahawks have swapped out right tackles and will run behind the more physical Bradley Sowell.MATCHUPS TO WATCH:–Panthers TE Greg Olsen vs. Seahawks secondary. Olsen caught 13 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns in two games against the Seahawks last season. Tight ends and running backs can be bigger threats to Seattle’s defense in the passing game than star receivers and Olsen has had success against the Seahawks in the past.–Seahawks RG Germain Ifedi vs. Panthers DT Kawaan Short. Ifedi struggled mightily against Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and the various stunts the Buccaneers threw at him last week. Short provides another stern test for Ifedi this week.PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Panthers OT Trai Turner. Injuries in Oakland forced the Panthers to shift Turner to right tackle, a position he hadn’t played since high school. He is expected to start there against the Seahawks, who will likely use DEs Michael Bennett and Frank Clark against Turner.FAST FACTS: Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart has seven rushing TDs in the past six games. He rushed for 106 yards and two TDs vs. Seattle in the division playoffs last season. … Carolina TE Greg Olsen leads NFL tight ends with 790 receiving yards and ranks second with 58 receptions. In two meetings last season, he netted 208 receiving yards and two touchdowns. … Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has 2,468 passing yards, 18 TD passes and two interceptions in his past nine home games. … Seattle WR Doug Baldwin has 788 receiving yards and eight TDs in his past eight home games. … In 10 career games vs. Carolina, TE Jimmy Graham has 64 receptions for 840 yards and eight TDs. Since 2011, he leads NFL tight ends with 5,707 yards and ranks second with 58 TD catches. … Seattle DE Cliff Avril leads the NFC with 10 sacks. He has 4.5 sacks in the past three games in Seattle.PREDICTION: The Seahawks have all of the incentive in this one, owing Carolina for two losses last season, trying to hold on to the No. 2 seed in the NFC and proving the dud in Tampa was a blip for the offense. They’re at home, too.
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