Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks: Big home win expected

'Superman' Cam Newton won't be able to save Carolina
'Superman' Cam Newton won't be able to save Carolina

With a losing record Carolina were lucky to get this far - but they now reached the end of their play-off road according to our analyst Neil Harvey, who's predicting a big win for Seattle in Sunday NFL showdown...

"The Seattle defense must be champing at the bit to get after Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who was way off the mark with some of his throws last week."

Seattle (-10.5) to beat Carolina @ 2.021/1

Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks    
Sunday December 11, 01:15
Live on Sky Sports 2

I've no doubts that Seattle will win this game. The question is by how much. The Panthers are huge 5.79/2 underdogs here and rightly so, but they are consequently being afforded a sizeable handicap. Anyone tuning in to watch Carolina for the first time last week might be tempted to jump all over that headstart. After all, they dispatched the previously impressive Arizona Cardinals 27-16. But that would be a mistake. The Arizona offense that took to the field that day was utterly impotent, with quarterback Ryan Lindley playing the role of chief eunuch. The Cardinals' fourth choice QB, Lindley looked as utterly out of his depth as it's possible for anybody to look in the NFL and that performance alone probably signaled the end of his pro-career. Yet despite playing an opponent deprived of its offensive fangs, Carolina still managed to make hard work of things, essentially giving up 16 points to the Arizona defense.

Rest assured, things will be much, much more difficult for the Panthers this weekend. And the Seattle defense must be champing at the bit to get after Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who was way off the mark with some of his throws last week. Should the Panthers fall behind, Newton will be forced to take on a large role and that could spell disaster. If Newton overthrows tight end Ed Dickson the way he did last weekend, those mistakes will be pounced upon by the league's number one defense. And this is a situation that looks to have a high probability of materialising as the game wears on. There's a reason the Panthers only had a 7-8-1 record in the regular season, and that reason was Cam Newton. 

On the ground, Carolina will turn to Jonathan Stewart, who's been averaging a healthy 4.6 yards per carry with the help of a sturdy offensive line. But just three touchdowns for Stewart this season reveals the problems the Panthers have had finding the endzone. He should find life especially tough against Seattle's number three ranked run-defense, for whom the return of Pro-Bowl middle linebacker Bobby Wagner has been a huge boost. And if Carolina should fail to establish the run, the chances of Newton (who celebrates TDs by doing a Superman pose) coming to the rescue, look pretty slim.

Carolina's defense looked truly impressive last week. But let's consider that it they may have been flattered by the uselessness of Arizona's offense. Plus the Panthers' D will be without influential defensive linesman Star Lotulelei, who fractured his foot while playing an appropriately stellar role in that win. His teammates will miss his absence. They'll also likely miss a few tackles while trying to contain Marshawn Lynch, aka Seattle's running game. Lynch had the joint most rushing touchdowns in the NFL this regular season, with 13, and will likely be used to grind down Carolina's 16th-ranked run defense. Lynch is also Seattle's go-to man in the red-zone, especially early-on in games. 

Seattle like to pound the ground hard and often in the opening stages, which makes Lynch a strong shout for first touchdown, even more so given Carolina's offensive woes. But as the contest wears on, expect Head Coach Pete Carroll to increasingly trust the arm, and legs, of Russell Wilson. Seattle's QB is capable of making big gains with his darting runs. And while the match-up isn't that great for his passing game, Wilson has given up the third least interceptions in the NFL and so should be relied upon not to make the kind of mistakes that could offer the Panthers hope.

Seattle look set to do to Carolina exactly what the Panthers did to Arizona last week, and squeeze the life out of their play-off challenge. Running backs are likely to dominate much of the early action here, which could keep the number of first half points to a minimum. But as Newton and Wilson become more involved and as more chances are taken on offense, the points could start to flow in the second half.

For me, it's a no-contest in terms of the winner. And Seattle aren't the kind of team to let-up on sides even when they're well ahead. Newton only has one real danger outlet and you can bet your bottom dollar that the Seattle defense will be all over receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Even if Carolina's defense performs to its best, I can't see how they could generate enough points to keep their side in contention. And there's a good chance that Newton will try making some high-risk plays late on, which may only compound his team's predicament, with Seattle's D a good shout to get on the scoresheet at some point in the game.

Recommended Bets
Seattle (-10.5) to beat Carolina @ 2.021/1
Seattle (-5.5) to beat Carolina at Half Time @ 1.9110/11 or better
Marshawn Lynch to score first touchdown @ 5.004/1 or better
Marshawn Lynch to score anytime touchdown @ 1.664/6 or better
Second half to be highest scoring half @ 1.9110/11 or better

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