The most anticipated Seahawks season of all-time will kick off in just 4 days with Russell Wilson and company heading into Charlotte to face the Panthers. The two teams met early last season in Carolina, with the Seahawks narrowly escaping with a 16-12 victory due largely in part to Seattle's defense. Wilson was still a few weeks away from really hitting his stride while Cam Newton continued the struggles that would plague him all season long.
Newton is arguably the best player on the Panthers roster. After an incredible rookie season, Newton experienced a surprising sophomore slump last year. Physically, Newton is Russel Wilson in a linebacker's body. Mentally, there are a lot of question marks in his game. Newton came to a talent-poor Panthers team having never really experienced failure or losing before. I think that may have worn on him but he looks primed to rebound from last season and should not be overlooked.
There is still a shortage of quality weapons at Newton's disposal. Ol' reliable Steve Smith may have lost a step or two but he still gives 100% on every play-- and is almost certain to get after it with Richard Sherman on Sunday both verbally and physically.
The Panthers defense is anchored by veteran linebacker, Jon Beason, but Luke Kuechly has emerged as the future star. I had high hopes that the Seahawks would draft Kuechly to replace Lofa Tatupu, but I have been nothing but satisfied by the performance of Bobby Wagner. Carolina shored up their defensive line in the draft, taking a pair of defensive tackles with their first two picks-- Star Lotulelei (no relation to our John Lotulelei) and Kawann Short. They also added former Seahawk, Colin Cole, to that mix.
By no means is Carolina a powerhouse-- I don't think they'll fare much better than 8-8 this season. They are a young team with talent trying to piece it all together. Unfortunately for them, they play in the same division as Atlanta, New Orleans and another team on the rise in Tampa Bay. I certainly expect Seattle to come away with a win this weekend, but I don't believe it will be an easy one. It shouldn't be a close game but I think it will take a few series before Seattle comes close to establishing the rhythm that carried them deep into the playoffs last year. While this is another 'dreaded, east coast 10:00 AM start' game-- it's also the first game of the season, which bodes well for Seattle.