CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera says the Seattle Seahawks are starting to feel a little like a division opponent.
The teams will meet for the sixth time in four years and for the second straight season in the NFC divisional playoffs on Sunday. The Seahawks have won four of the previous five matchups, including a 31-17 playoff victory last year in Seattle.
But this time it's a little different.
Not only will the game be played 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 connected on a 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with 32 seconds left.
The Panthers say that win helped jumpstart their 14-0 start this season and gave them confidence they could beat the best. ''It was just a matter of getting over that hump,'' said cornerback Josh Norman.
It led Panthers safety Roman Harper to declare this week: ''We are the better team.''
In many ways, the Seahawks and Panthers are mirror images of one another, which may help explain why the last five games have come down to the wire.
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 may be Carolina's No. 1 scoring offense against Seattle's defense, which has allowed the fewest points in the league.
Newton became the first QB in league history to throw for 35 touchdown passes and run for 10 scores in a season. He'll face a defense loaded with playmakers.
''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. ''You've seen everybody have trouble with it all year long, so we'll see if we can keep it down and try to keep the score within reach and see if we have a chance.''