Both the Seattle Seahawks (2-3) and Carolina Panthers (4-0) have had surprising starts to the 2015 season.
Many predicted the Seahawks would improve by default after acquiring Jimmy Graham in the offseason. But Russell Wilson felt the ill effects of a poor offensive line, while the chemistry between Wilson and Graham has been average at best.
Cam Newton, meanwhile, lost his No. 1 wideout Kelvin Benjamin before the season started and has had to rely on a cast of players from Ted Ginn to Jericho Cotchery to Brenton Bersin. Despite ranking 25th in total offense, the Panthers have relied on a stout defense (fourth in points allowed, 10th in total yards allowed).
Here are three keys to the game for both the Panthers:
1. Use that emotion from the 2014 loss
The Panthers have plenty of emotion heading into this game, as it was the Seahawks who sent them home in the 2014 postseason. Carolina lost that game 31-17, but you can bet the sour taste is still in their mouth. Obviously, playing in Seattle is a tough task for any team, but Carolina needs to use the emotion from the loss in their favor, and coming out with a ton of emotion in Week 6.
2. Continue to protect the football
If you’re going to beat a team like the Seahawks on the road, you have to protect the ball. Over the past two weeks, Newton has done a great job of doing that, specifically when it comes to avoiding interceptions. He’s thrown four touchdowns against zero interceptions in the last two victories. Another performance where Newton plays smart is going to be the key to success for Carolina on Sunday.
3. Pressure Wilson
Whether it’s via interceptions or sacks, the Panthers need to bother Wilson. The lead man in Seattle has taken a whopping 22 sacks through five games this season, so Carolina should have no issue getting to him. On the other side of things, Wilson may have only thrown three interceptions this year, but the Panthers have forced eight as a team. If they can pressure Wilson, it could be a long day for Seattle’s passing game.