Friday, January 20, 2006NFC Championship Breakdown: Defense
Defensive Line: If Julius Peppers was healthy the Panthers would have a huge advantage, as it is he’ll only be about 60% and that makes a big difference. Carolina also has Mike Rucker and super substitute Al Wallace to form a solid core of pass rushers. Brentson Buckner is a strong inside presence but there’s no doubt that the Panthers would be much better with Kris Jenkins in the lineup. Grant Winstrom will be the key for Seattle because he’s quick enough to slide to the outside on those WR screens the Panthers love and he’s a skilled rusher. Rocky Bernard will also see a lot of playing time as an inside rusher. In the end Carolina, even without a healthy Peppers, has the better front line. Edge: Carolina
Linebackers: Another area where Carolina’s experience will come into play. Dan Morgan is a strong, albeit constantly injured, middle man while Will Witherspoon and Brandon Short are strong assignment outside backers. This isn’t an overwhelming group, but they are solid and make few mistakes. Lofa Tatupu is a tackling machine for the Seahawks, he covers a lot of ground and doesn’t miss often. Leroy Hill is another new starter who has given the Seattle defense a new look. This is a near even matchup depending on if you like veterans or rookies. Edge: Even
Secondary: Remember the name Marcus Trufant because he’s going to be the one Seattle leans on to contain Steve Smith. He’ll have a lot of help, probably from safety Michael Boulware. Seattle’s secondary has been banged up in the second half of the season, but they are a decent unit when healthy. Carolina has Ken Lucas (former Seahawk, bitter man) and Chris Gamble, two solid corners plus Ricky Manning Jr. who intercepted three passes in the NFC Championship game against Donovan McNabb two years ago, as a nickelback. Marlon McCree has stood tall in as a safety next to veteran Mike Minter. Carolina scores well here. Edge: Carolina
Special Teams: Seattle doesn’t punt a lot and when they do Tom Rouen has shown to be what he is, a journeyman. His main job will be to punt the ball high and away from Smith. Carolina picked up Jason Baker in a hurry-up attempt to rid themselves of Todd Sauerbraun and his 38.9 net average is the second best in the league. Peter Warrick will replace Jimmy Williams at the punt return spot for Seattle and while he’s mostly been inactive this season, he is a great clutch return specialist. John Fox stresses field position and kick coverage and that gives the Panthers the edge. Edge: Carolina
Intagibles: Seattle is 9-0 at home and has a strong advantage at Qwest Stadium. Carolina is 8-2 on the road. Both coaches have been to Super Bowls as assistants and head coaches but only Holmgren has the ring. Carolina is a road warrior team but with injuries piling up it was be especially tough to win a third consecutive road game. Seattle is still widely disrespected and will be looking to prove that they deserve to be here. Edge: Seattle
Overall: I think Seattle wins partially due to a great home field advantage and partially due to a very banged up Carolina team. It will be close and competitive throughout however, 23-17.