Champion Seahawks open postseason hosting upstart Panthers
SEATTLE (AP) Here's what has set the defending champion Seattle Seahawks apart: They seem to have perfected not overhyping an individual game.
While others are willing to acknowledge the enormity of the moment, the Seahawks thrive by keeping everything even.
"I'm just thinking to myself, 'It's the same for us. It's not going to be different. It's going to be another football game. It's going to be us versus y'all,'" Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin said. "That's the biggest thing. Our mindset is different. Pete (Carroll) has us at a whole different level than other people think."
That approach will be tested on Saturday night when the Seahawks (12-4) host the Carolina Panthers in an NFC divisional playoff game. Aside from facing an opponent with similar qualities, the Seahawks will be trying to overcome recent history.
No defending Super Bowl champion has won a playoff game the following year since New England in January 2006. Three defending champs have earned a playoff bye since then only to get upset at home in the divisional round. The most recent was Green Bay, which went 15-1 in 2011 and was knocked off by the New York Giants at home.
That is the history the Seahawks are attempting to ignore and the trend the Panthers (8-8-1) are hoping to continue.
"I think we have the experience of it being the same game to us and understanding that we play a championship game every week and this is no different," Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said. "We play it like it's an elimination game every week so it doesn't change that for us."
The Seahawks are riding a six-game winning streak, turning the contentiousness of a 6-4 record into a second straight NFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They've also won three straight regular-season games against the Panthers.
But the Panthers have a way of making things difficult on the Seahawks. None of the three games were decided by more than five points and neither team scored more than 16.
Carolina is trying to become the first team to reach the conference championship game after making the playoffs with a losing record. Seattle knows the road Carolina is trying to travel. The Seahawks won the NFC West in 2010 with a 7-9 mark and beat New Orleans in the wild-card round before falling to Chicago.
"The truth of the matter is it doesn't matter how you get in, just get in, and then see what happens," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "It's what happened to Seattle a few years back, they got hot. They got hot, they won a game, that's kind of the way we look at it. We got hot, we won a home field playoff game, but we just go from there."
Here are other things to watch as Seattle seeks an eighth straight playoff win at home:
CAM AND RUSS: Cam Newton has never played well against Seattle and all those games have been at home. Newton has a passer rating of 70.6 and been sacked eight times in three games against the Seahawks.
"It's about going into a hostile environment and not only proving to people, but proving to ourselves that we belong here," Newton said.
Russell Wilson hasn't been perfect, but has managed to make key plays to go 3-0 against Carolina. This season, Wilson hit Luke Willson on a 23-yard TD in the final minute to pull out the victory.
PANTHERS ON THE RUN: The Panthers are averaging 196.6 yards rushing per game during their current win streak.
Jonathan Stewart has carried the load, averaging 104.8 yards per game with two touchdowns during that span.
Newton is averaging 56.2 yards per game with three TDs during the stretch. One of the main reasons for the improved play is the Panthers have found consistency on the offensive line, starting the same five players for the past six games.
SUFFOCATING: When All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner and safety Kam Chancellor returned from injuries, Seattle's defense became suffocating. The Seahawks didn't allow any fourth-quarter points during their six-game winning streak. They allowed 39 total points and an average of 202.2 total yards.
GANO STRUGGLING: Carolina's Graham Gano parlayed an outstanding season in 2013 into a big contract this past offseason. He's 30 of 37 this year, but has struggled in recent weeks with missed field goals in three of the last four games. He's also struggled in the fourth quarter, converting just 8 of 12 attempts.
EAR PLUGS: Newton and his Carolina teammates have never experienced CenturyLink Field and its notorious noise. Sherman called the first experience for any opponent in Seattle "unnerving." Including the postseason, Seattle has won 24 of 26 at home.
"I never think you can be a championship team unless you have a great advantage when you play at home," Carroll said.
AP Sports Writer Steve Reed contributed to this report.
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