Panthers seek NFL play-off revenge
NEW YORK (AP):
The Carolina Panthers no longer appear apprehensive about playing the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.
In fact, they're pretty confident.
"We are the better team," Panthers safety Roman Harper says matter-of-factly.
Harper and his teammates want to prove it again tomorrow when the teams meet in Charlotte in the NFL divisional play-offs. The winner advances to play the Arizona-Green Bay winner for the NFC Championship.
The Panthers took a big step forward when they went to Seattle and defeated the Seahawks 27-23 in Week 6, a victory that served as a springboard to their 14-0 start.
But it was more than just that.
That victory was about clearing a major obstacle for the Panthers. Before that, they had lost four times in three seasons to the Seahawks, including 31-17 in the divisional play-offs last January in Seattle.
Harper says the Panthers are better prepared for the Seahawks in these play-offs than they were last January, when they reached the postseason with a 7-1-8 record. That team was just happy to make the playoffs. This one wants to win it all.
Their defense forced an NFL-leading 39 turnovers and placed sixth overall in both yards and points allowed. They strutted to a 15-1 record, ruffling some feelings by their opponents along the way while scoring a league-most 500 points. Cam Newton made a strong case for the league MVP award, totalling 45 touchdowns and adding some flamboyant end zone dances.
The Panthers have not lost at home since November 2014, a string of 11 straight games, but the Seahawks are the least likely team to be intimidated on the road, with the swagger built by consecutive Super Bowl appearances, a wealth of Pro Bowl players discovered later in the draft, and the momentum this season they rode to an 8-2 finish.
Then there's that last-minute loss to New England in the Super Bowl last season they've been determined to move past.
The last divisional play-off of the weekend, the Denver Broncos hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers, would be a lot more intriguing if all their stars were fit.
The Steelers' injury report was getting way too crowded. Wide receiver Antonio Brown (concussion) and running back DeAngelo Williams (foot) were ruled out yesterday, while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, dealing with a sprain to his right throwing shoulder, practised. Whether he plays will have a major impact on their chances.
The Broncos, however, know passer Peyton Manning isn't at 100 percent efficiency either. Manning has endured various injuries in the worst regular season of his 18-year career to make his first start in two months.
Still, the Broncos are counting on his experience and the balanced attack they displayed when he returned to action in a victorious relief appearance of Brock Osweiler in Week 17. But if the Broncos are to advance, they may need to rely more on a defense that allowed the fewest yards in the league and had the most sacks (52).
The winner advances to the AFC Championship game against either New England or Kansas City.