By Shawn S. Lealos
The Carolina Panthers entered the 2015 NFL season with a great chance of making the playoffs, but early prognosticators had them ranked behind the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, and Dallas Cowboys. So, the Panthers went and finished the season 15-1, one win away from a perfect regular season. That gave the Panthers the number one seed in the NFC playoffs and the easiest road into the Super Bowl. However, the problem is that their most likely opponent is the Seattle Seahawks, a team who has made it to back-to-back Super Bowls and want to get back for the third straight season. Here is a look at the Panther’s potential opponents for the divisional round of the playoffs.
Washington Redskins (Seed #4, 9-7)
The Washington Redskins have the least chance of any team in the Wild Card round to move on in the playoffs. They are the lowest ranked division winner, from the lowly NFC East, and they have to play the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the playoffs. If the Redskins do somehow slip past the Packers, they will only play the Panthers in the next round if the Minnesota Vikings beat the Seattle Seahawks, and two NFC Wild Card upsets are not likely. If it happens, this is a game that Kirk Cousins will have to play his best to have any chance to win. The two teams played early in the season and the Panthers won 44-16.
Green Bay Packers (Seed #5, 10-6)
The Green Bay Packers play the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card playoffs and the Packers will be favored to win. However, Green Bay is a team that faltered late in the season and ended up a Wild Card team on the road as a result. The Redskins are playing inspired football right now and could catch the Packers off-guard. If the Packers win and face off with the Panthers, this will be a game where Aaron Rodgers will have to outgun Cam Newton to win. The problem with this game is that the Packers defense is not very good and the Panthers have one of the best defenses in the NFL. Carolina beat Green Bay in November, 37-29, a game where Rodgers and Newton combined for seven touchdown passes.
Seattle Seahawks (Seed #6, 10-6)
The most likely opponent for the Panthers in the divisional round of the playoffs is the Seattle Seahawks. After going to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning one of them, the Seahawks lost their division to the Arizona Cardinals and ended up as the last Wild Card. However, they are much better than that. Since their loss to Carolina in October, 27-23, the Seahawks have went 8-2 and they are as hot as any team in the NFL. They even beat the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals, 36-6, in the final week of the season. Russell Wilson holds the keys to the franchise, setting new franchise records this year. However, this is a game where the defense that plays better will win.
The Carolina Panthers have the best road to the Super Bowl. Every game will take place in Carolina. The Panthers will get to sit at home and rest as the Wild Card playoffs kick off this weekend and can watch comfortably as their opponents beat each other up to figure out their path. The team is healthy and playing better than anyone right now. The only scary thing about being the number one seed is that the Seattle Seahawks might be the team coming to town next.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. aExaminer.com.