The Seahawks (12-4) have won seven home playoff games in a row and are an NFL-best 24-2 overall at home since 2012. They have the league’s No. 1 defense and an MVP candidate in quarterback Russell Wilson.
But I’m going out on a limb here and picking the Panthers (8-8-1). They have bucked history already by winning the NFC South with a losing record. They are coming off a history-making effort in last Saturday’s NFC wild-card game, holding Arizona to a playoff-record-low 78 yards.
Carolina has won five straight games, outscoring opponents by a combined 138-59. The defense during that stretch has rivaled Seattle’s.
I also like that the Panthers have held Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to an average of around 63 yards per game in their three previous meetings. If they can make the Seahawks one-dimensional again and force Wilson to beat them, they have a chance.
This is a different defense than the one Seattle had when it beat Carolina 13-9 in Charlotte on Oct. 26. The secondary has three new starters and the front four is collecting sacks -- 18 during a five-game win streak, 10 in the last two games -- like last year’s unit.
But what makes me go out on a limb are the intangibles. Any team that can survive its star quarterback breaking his back in a December car wreck and its head coach being left homeless by a house fire the Monday before this game seems destined.
Prediction: Panthers 16, Seahawks 14