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NFL Preview - Seattle (0-0) at Carolina (0-0)



By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - The Seattle Seahawks are a stylish pick to represent the NFC in this year's Super Bowl and the long and winding road begins Sunday against the host Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

Seattle came close to advancing to last season's conference championship game, losing in the waning seconds at Atlanta in the divisional round. The Seahawks went 11-5 a year ago, the best mark since going 10-6 in 2007, and are pegged to compete with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West.

The Seahawks owe a lot of last season's success to quarterback Russell Wilson, who beat out Matt Flynn for the starting job as a rookie. Wilson never relinquished his golden opportunity and because of that the Seahawks have high hopes for 2013. Wilson started all 16 games last season, going 8-0 at home, and passed for 3,118 yards with 26 touchdown passes, tying Peyton Manning's rookie record.

Wilson, who had a 100-plus passer rating in nine games in 2012 and exceeded all expectations, will try not to struggle through the so-called sophomore slump now that opposing defenses will be keying in on last April's third-round draft choice. Head coach Pete Carroll is confident in his signal caller and knows Wilson makes everyone around him that much better.

"Russell is the kind of player that will affect other guys," Carroll said recently. "He affects everybody around him and hopefully that will help everybody play better."

Seattle has reached the playoffs twice in the previous three seasons and was riding a six-game winning streak until falling to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Seahawks overcame a 20-0 deficit to make it interesting and the outcome could have been different had Marshawn Lynch been able to find an opening across the offensive line. Lynch is another star for the Seahawks and perhaps gives the team a better chance to win than Wilson.

As difficult as that may be to believe, Lynch has been born again in the Pacific Northwest and Carroll will feed the hard-charging back as much as possible. Lynch has transformed himself into one of the top backs in the league and was third in the NFL last season with a career-high 1,590 rushing yards. Lynch had 100 or more yards rushing in eight of the final 10 games in 2012 and leads the NFL with 2,531 rushing yards since Nov. of 2011.

The Seahawks have lost two straight and three of their last four season openers and are winless in the past three lid-lifters on the road. They haven't won a season opener on the road since Sept. 10, 2006 at Detroit and will start the season away from home for the 10th time in 14 years.

Carolina has missed the playoffs each of the past four years and, like Seattle, is counting on big things in 2013. Quarterback Cam Newton set the bar high this offseason by saying: "The time is now."

Newton said that during a radio interview and touched on how the atmosphere is much different than a year ago. Whether the new attitude serves a purpose in 2013 is unknown, but Newton is saying all the right things.

"We're looking at the small things that can make a big difference. It starts here in practice. We can't hold ourselves accountable to a standard in a game if we don't do it in practice," Newton said. "That's been something of a different vibe in practice. It's been working out for us."

The Panthers enter the new season with a chip on their shoulder and teams should be wary of what they could do. After a lowly 1-6 start a season ago, the team was able to come together and finish strong, going 6-3 the rest of the way with four straight victories to close the season.

Carolina hasn't had a winning season since 2008, when it was 12-4, and finished the 2009 campaign at 8-8. Head coach Ron Rivera was given a pass by owner Jerry Richardson in January, when it was confirmed he will return for a third season. But 2013 could be his last if the Panthers fail to meet requirements. Carolina was 6-10 in Rivera's first season, but the team rallied at the end of 2012 to finish 7-9. The four-game winning streak to end the season gave hope to Rivera.

"We played a lot of young players who gained valuable experience that should help us in the coming season," Rivera said. "There are a lot of positives to take away from last season, but they are only meaningful if we learn from them in 2013."

Carolina has lost four straight season openers.

Sunday's matchup between the Panthers and Seahawks will be the sixth in the regular season. The teams split the first four encounters, then the Seahawks won last season's meeting, 16-12, on Oct. 7 in the Tar Heel State.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

Newton has been all the rage the past two seasons in which he's amassed 7,920 passing yards. He is the only quarterback with 500-plus rushing yards in each of his first two seasons and shouldn't have to shoulder the ground load with DeAngelo Williams in the backfield.

But Lynch deserves some credit, too, for his transformation in Seattle. How Lynch goes, the Seahawks will go this season. The Panthers and Seahawks have similar dilemmas with athletic QBs and an above average backfield, but Seattle has the edge with Lynch.

Once Lynch gets into "Beast Mode" he's pretty tough to stop. He leads the NFL with 16 100-yard rushing games since 2011 and has hit that mark in 16 of his last 25 games. While Wilson has Sidney Rice and Golden Tate to throw passes to, it may be easier for him to just stick the ball into Lynch's midsection.

Lynch, the third player (Chris Warren, Shaun Alexander) in Seahawks history to rush for 1,500 yards in a season, came within one touchdown of matching his career-high of 13 back in 2011. Lynch has a streak of four straight 100-yard rushing games alive to start the 2013 campaign for the Seahawks, who have compiled 100-plus rushing yards in 21 of the past 25 games. Lynch ran for 85 yards on 21 carries in last year's game against Carolina.

Since Week 9 of 2011, Seattle's 3,791 yards ranks first in the NFL.

The Panthers, though, will counter Lynch and the Seattle offense with second- year stud linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was the NFL's top tackler his rookie season with 164 stops. Kuechly helped turn around Carolina's defense by season's end and earned the praise of his teammates.

"He's done a fantastic job. He just makes plays. He's a young guy who didn't come in entitled. He was real eager to learn. He takes notes," Panthers star wide receiver Steve Smith said. "It doesn't surprise me how much success he's having. I think he hasn't even cracked the surface."

Smith will have an interesting matchup with Seahawks flamboyant and trash- talking cornerback Richard Sherman, who helped contain Carolina's top wideout to the tune of 40 yards on four catches.

Left defensive end Charles Johnson recorded a team-leading and a career-high 12 1/2 sacks last season and is Carolina's top pass rusher. Johnson has posted 33 1/2 sacks over the past three seasons and hopes to contain Wilson and Seattle ground attack.

Seattle's defensive front is nicked up and that will most likely lead to its demise Sunday. Sack leader Chris Clemons will not be 100 percent because of his rehab from anterior cruciate ligament knee surgery in January. Clemons, though, was activated from the PUP list during final roster cuts to avoid missing the first six games.

"To take the next step he needs to start pushing people and all that," Carroll said of Clemons. "He's coming along great, and he's making great progress."

Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane (groin), Tony McDaniel (groin) and rookie Jordan Hill (strained biceps) are all questionable because of injuries, while offseason acquisition Cliff Avril is nursing a hamstring issue.

OVERALL ANALYSIS:

The turf at Bank of America Stadium will need re-surfacing when the Panthers and Seahawks are through Sunday. In a matchup between teams aiming to exceed last season's expectations, it will come down to which defense makes stops and gets off the field often.

Even though Carolina has a chip on its shoulder from last season's late success, the Seahawks are a more polished bunch and losing on opening weekend will be detrimental to their psyche.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 21, Panthers 17

09/05 11:24:36 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
ECU 64
TULSA 66
Final
UNC 78
FSU 74
Final
NCCU 79
COPST 77
 
Final
CHA 76
NYK 71
Final
CHA 76
NYK 71
Final
MIL 101
DET 86
Final
MEM 101
PHI 83
4th
UTA 101
BRK 70
 
Half
POR 45
WAS 55
 
Final
SENS 13
SENN 34
Final
DREX 53
COC 51
 
Final
XAV 89
DEP 76
Final
PURD 67
IOWA 63
Final
SCAR 43
KENT 58
Final
KYST 63
OKST 53
Final
PSU 79
RUTG 51
Final
ECU 64
TULSA 66
Final
CLEM 59
WAKE 57
Final
HC 76
NAVY 65
 
Final
FUR 82
ALLN 46
 
Final
BU 77
BUCK 92
 
Final
NKENTUCKY 81
JVU 59
 
Final
IUPUI 65
SD 50
 
Final
TENN 61
TEXAM 67
Final
VMI 85
CITA 75
 
Final
INDST 72
LOYC 61
 
Final
WMICH 69
AKR 71
 
Final
MIZZ 60
ARK 61
Final
AFA 68
BSU 77
Final
YALE 69
BRO 65
 
Final
OHIO 63
BUF 61
 
Final
HARV 61
DART 70
 
Final
NEOM 80
DEN 69
 
Final
GWU 74
DUQ 59
Final
KNST 48
FLGC 54
 
Final
UNC 78
FSU 74
Final
TEX 62
KU 75
Final
BST 52
KSU 63
 
Final
LAF 71
LEH 75
 
Final
COL 59
GHND 58
 
Final
WMARY 78
NE 62
 
Final
USCU 91
STET 67
 
Final
WVU 86
TCU 85
Final
MINN 79
ILL 71
Final
MARQ 85
GEOR 95
Final
UGST 75
LALAF 64
 
Final
MNTER 52
RFLSH 40
 
Final
MSST 66
UGA 72
Final
MARS 78
UTEP 71
Final
WKENT 83
TXSA 74
Final
CHIST 41
CALST 57
 
Final
SDU 77
BYU 74
 
Final
WINT 71
CAMP 63
 
Final
TTU 78
ISU 73
Final
HOF 63
JMU 69
 
Final
COOK 70
MDES 74
 
Final
NWST 93
MCNST 67
 
Final
SYR 62
MIAMI 66
Final
NILL 55
UMO 60
 
Final
NEB 79
MSU 77
Final
WYO 63
NMU 62
Final
CCAR 63
PBY 52
 
Final
Terriers 65
RMU 67
 
Final
BRY 66
SHU 83
 
Final
EVAN 75
SILL 66
 
Final
OREG 82
UCLA 64
Final
EILL 52
PEAY 56
 
Final
NCCU 79
COPST 77
 
Final
CMICH 65
EMICH 51
 
Final
RAD 84
LIB 76
 
Final
FD 76
LIU 80
 
Final
MNTST 64
NARZ 71
 
Final
LIP 66
UNF 75
 
Final
EWASH 102
NDAK 80
 
Final
TROY 55
ARKST 64
 
Final
TXST 58
APP 64
 
Final
CSOU 93
GWEBB 80
 
Final
LAMON 53
GSOUT 57
 
Final
ABCHRIST 61
INCWORD 77
 
Final
JVST 63
MORE 66
 
Final
CARK 61
NICST 71
 
Final
UAB 81
ODU 68
Final
SHSU 68
STEPH 79
 
Final
ALAST 84
ALCOR 60
 
Final
MTST 72
CHAR 69
Final
NCAT 52
DELST 67
 
Final
MISS 72
UF 71
Final
SMU 80
HOU 59
Final
FAM 50
HOW 59
 
Final
GRAM 63
JST 74
 
Final
VANDY 75
LSU 79
Final
SCST 63
NORST 76
 
Final
BAY 69
OKLA 58
Final
MVSU 65
PVU 72
 
Final
ARKLR 68
TXARL 75
 
Final
CHAT 81
UNCG 72
 
Final
ORST 59
USC 55
Final
SAV 68
HAMP 66
 
Final
TOL 71
BGU 67
 
Final
UCSB 68
CSFU 49
 
Final
RIDE 59
CAN 46
 
Final
CLMB 47
CORN 57
 
Final
GMAS 73
DAVID 80
Final
ELON 94
DEL 82
 
Final
WOFF 72
ETST 64
 
Final
YOUNG 77
ILLCH 64
 
Final
FRES 66
NEV 62
Final
MAST 77
NDST 71
 
Final
STJOE 52
PENN 56
Final
DAY 63
RICH 60
Final
TENNM 70
SEMIZ 53
 
Final
HIGH 72
UNCA 51
 
Final
CCST 53
WAGN 50
 
Final
SAMF 78
WCU 72
 
Final
MICH 64
WISC 69
Final
UMKC 75
SEAT 55
 
Final
NO 67
TAMCC 71
 
Final
ALAAM 58
SOUTH 65
 
Final
TXPA 73
GRCN 72
 
Final
HOUB 79
LAM 77
 
Final
RICE 45
LATU 58
Final
TULA 55
MEM 57
 
Final
BRAD 61
MIZST 59
 
Final
SIUE 54
MURST 60
 
Final
GONZ 91
PAC 60
Final
UNT 71
SMISS 75
 
Final
ORU 72
SDKST 76
 
Final
UNCW 69
TOWS 65
 
Final
UNLV 79
UTST 77
 
Final
COL 90
WASU 58
Final
ALA 57
AUB 55
 
Final
ARKPB 66
TXSOU 62
 
Final
WEBER 71
SACST 78
 
Final
MONT 58
SUTAH 56
 
Final
NMST 69
WLVRN 44
 
2nd
IDST 77
PORST 74
 
2nd
TENT 68
EKENT 65
 
Half
CSNO 18
LBSU 28
 
2nd
USF 43
LMU 30
 
Half
IDAHO 47
NCOL 32
 
Half
COLST 40
SDST 32
 
Half
PORT 31
GAELS 30
 
2nd
CPSL 27
UCR 26
 
1st
CAL 13
ARZ 13
 
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