1. Turning point: A 13-9 loss to Seattle on Oct. 26 was something of a turning point for Carolina's defense, which set an NFL playoff record in Saturday’s NFC wild-card game by holding Arizona to 78 total yards. As the coaching staff realized a week before the Seattle game -- a 38-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers -- that more speed was needed in the secondary, Josh Norman replaced Melvin White as a starting cornerback. He brought not only speed but also much-needed aggressiveness and attitude. The overhaul wasn't complete until the second half at Minnesota four games later, when Bene’ Benwikere replaced cornerback Antoine Cason and rookie Tre Boston replaced free safety Thomas DeCoud. Both rookies started the following week, and the Panthers have gone 5-0 with them in the lineup. During the streak, the defense has allowed 11.8 points per game. Sacks are up because coverage is better and opposing quarterbacks have a Total Quarterback Rating below 22.
2. Can Cam? Quarterback Cam Newton has thrown only one touchdown pass in his three games against Seattle. The Panthers have lost all three by less than a touchdown -- 13-9 (2014), 12-7 (2013), 16-12 (2012). Newton has to figure out the Seahawks' defense that has held him to an average of 145.6 yards passing in those games. He also has struggled to run against Seattle, totaling 104 yards on 24 carries (4.3 yards per carry). For his career, Newton averages 5.5 yards per carry. For the Panthers to have a chance, Newton has to be more productive. He also has to protect the ball better than he did in this past Saturday’s wild-card win, in which he had an interception and a lost fumble. He may also be without one of his weapons at wide receiver. Rookie Philly Brown, whose speed has helped open up the offense, is day-to-day with a shoulder injury.
3. Beast Mode factor: The Panthers have been effective at keeping Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch under control, holding him to an average of 63.3 yards in three games. He had only 62 yards on 14 carries when the teams met in October, and Carolina’s run defense has become much more efficient since. The Panthers have held their past five opponents to 87.4 yards rushing a game after allowing 131.8 yards in their first nine games. This is the formula they used a year ago, when they were second in the league in total defense. Seattle, with basically the same formula, was ranked first. Make the opponent one-dimensional, then bring pressure on the quarterback and force him to beat you. The past five opponents haven’t been able to do that. It begins Saturday with stopping Lynch, who is fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,306 yards and 13 touchdowns.