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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
Conference Week
January 21, 2005
Season Ticket
Pittsburgh at Denver
3:00 PM Sunday on CBS
Carolina at Seattle
6:30 PM Sunday on FOX

Prediction: Carolina 16, Seattle 23

This is also a game with little precedent. These two teams have only met twice ever - the first was last year when Seattle beat the visiting Panthers 23-17 and before that was a game back in 2000. The Panthers are attempting to reach the Super Bowl without ever playing a home game while Seattle comes off a win over the non-offensive Redskins. In their favor perhaps - one visitor has won in the conference championship week for the last six years.

Line: Seahawks by 4, Over/Under = 43.5
Weather: 44 degrees, clear but this is Seattle so expect rain

Carolina Panthers (11-5)
1 20-23 NOR 10 30-3 NYJ
2 27-17 NE 11 3-13 @CHI
3 24-27 @MIA 12 13-9 @BUF
4 32-29 GBP 13 24-6 ATL
5 24-20 @ARI 14 10-20 TBB
6 21-20 @DET 15 27-10 @NOR
7 Open Bye 16 20-24 DAL
8 38-13 MIN 17 44-11 @ATL
9 34-14 @TBB . MON SAT
CAR Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Jake Delhomme 10 0 210,1
RB Nick Goings 40 10 0
TE Kris Mangum 0 10 0
WR Steve Smith 20 90,1 0
WR Keary Colbert 0 10 0
WR Drew Carter 0 50 0
WR Ricky Proehl 0 30 0
PK John Kasay 3 FG 1 XP -
Pregame Notes: There is no denying that the Panthers have reached the conference championship exactly the same way they made the playoffs - sound defense and a whole lot of Steve Smith. They also enjoyed a late season spark from DeShaun Foster but he finally broke down this season with a fractured ankle last week. So it's back to looking for Steve Smith - and maybe only him.

Quarterback: After two weeks of playoffs, Jake Delhomme has thrown for four touchdowns in two games played and comes off a 319 yard, three score game against the Bears in Chicago. Never mind that almost all action went to Steve Smith - everyone knew in advance that would happen and it still could not be stopped. To show just how good that was consider that the Bears had only allowed two visiting teams to score any passing touchdowns this year and no opponent had thrown for over 250 yards and scored. The passing game may be almost entirely one dimensional but that has worked for the entire season.

Running Backs: After finally finding a running game, the Panthers watched DeShaun Foster leave last week with a fractured ankle. That means once again the running game falls back to Nick Goings. Last week Goings ran ten times for just 34 yards in Chicago. Goings is as good as the blocking is and no better, and now the Panthers must face one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL this week.

Wide Receivers: The bad news is that the Panthers really only have one wideout. Drew Carter had two catches for 42 yards last week and Ricky Proehl can throw in a catch or two. Even Keary Colbert occasionally has more than one catch but this attack starts and ends with Steve Smith. The good news is that he clearly has been the best wideout in the NFL this season and that has continued in the playoffs. Last week Smith returned to Chicago and gouged them for 12 catches for 218 yards and two scores. He also had three runs for 26 yards. The week before against the Giants, Smith had 10 catches for 84 yards and one score with a second touchdown added on a 12-yard end around run. Yes, Steve Smith is the only wideout of note on the team. Yes, everyone knows that most all passes go to Smith. And no, apparently no one can keep him covered.

Tight Ends: Kris Mangum had a touchdown last week on his only catch in the game. It was the first score by a tight end for Carolina in the last six games.

Match Against the Defense: The Seahawks have the #1 defense against running backs this year and here come the Panthers once again using a full back pressed into duty as a starting runner. Portis only gained 41 yards on 17 carries last week in Seattle so expect very little from the running game here.

This game will turn on how well Delhomme can pass and so far he has used little more than Steve Smith - as dominating as that has been. In nine games at Seattle, opposing wideouts have never had more than one touchdown per game and only two have topped 100 yards (Stokley and Burress and neither scored). Undoubtedly the Seahawks will stop the run and will be looking for the pass to Smith. He may be best in the NFL right now but the Seattle defense has been very good against the pass as well. Expect Smith, via a huge volume of passes, to turn in a decent game here but the lack of diversity of targets is going to hurt, particularly without a running game to worry about for the Seahawks defense.

Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
1 14-26 @JAC 10 31-16 STL
2 21-18 ATL 11 27-25 @SFO
3 37-12 ARI 12 24-21 NYG
4 17-20 @WAS 13 42-0 @PHI
5 37-31 @STL 14 41-3 SFO
6 42-10 HOU 15 28-24 @TEN
7 13-10 DAL 16 28-13 IND
8 Open Bye 17 17-23 @GBP
9 33-19 @ARI . MON SAT
SEA Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Matt Hasselbeck 0 0 220,1
RB Shaun Alexander 100,1 20 0
TE Jerramy Stevens 0 30 0
WR Darrell Jackson 0 60,1 0
WR Bobby Engram 0 50 0
WR Joe Jurevicius 0 50 0
PK Josh Brown 3 FG 2 XP -

Pregame Notes: Seattle is a perfect 9-0 at home this year despite losing Shaun Alexander to a concussion last week. They catch a break in hosting the Panthers without Foster this week and Alexander is expected to return this Sunday. While the Panthers may be a surprise opponent this week, there is no surprise that the best record in the NFC is hosting the game.

Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck threw for 215 yards and one score last week and extends his streak to 12 straight games with a touchdown (not counting his minimal play in week 17). Hasselbeck has been solid this season without Darrell Jackson and has been even better with Jackson added back into the mix. With Alexander there to worry the defense, Hasselbeck can use his diverse passing attack to even better advantage.

Running Backs: Shaun Alexander only had six carries for nine yards last week before leaving with a concussion. He is being held out of practice as a precaution, but he has had no headaches or lingering problems from his injury and should return. In his place, Maurice Morris gained only 49 yards on 18 carries against the tough Redskins defense last week. Alexander obviously adds a significant weapon for the Seahawks and one that must be accounted for by the Panthers.

Wide Receivers: Darrell Jackson comes off his game against the Skins that had nine catches for 143 yards and one score - no worries that he is still having lingering problems with his knee. Both Joe Jurevicius and Bobby Engram offer valuable targets as well and were not needed last week. Both should come into play more this week.

Tight Ends: Jerramy Stevens only had two catches for 13 yards last week which is well below his normal 35 yard game but with Alexander out and the Redskins defense showing up, he mainly blocked last week. That could happen again but more likely he won't need to carve a path for Alexander nearly as much as he did for Morris.

Match Against the Defense: Alexander goes against a defense that has been generally good against the run but has allowed several runners to have big games including Carnell Williams and Julius Jones. Statistically it has been outstanding on the road but the lineup of opponents have not been a tour of the best runners either. Look for a solid game here by Alexander that could become big if the Seahawks get an early lead that they want to protect.

The Panther secondary has only allowed three opposing quarterbacks to throw for more than one score in a game and most opponents have remained well below 200 passing yards. But again - the Panthers schedule has not included many teams that do pass well. Look for Hasselbeck to throw for around 220 yards and at least one score that slightly favors Jackson again. But the yardage for any particular wideout is likely not to exceed 100 yards since the Panthers secondary has been stepping up particularly in the second half of the season.