A few notes and my prediction on Carolina's season opener vs. Seattle (1 p.m. in Charlotte):
While many ACC fans will keep a close eye on former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson Sunday, the Panthers may have even more trouble with Marshawn Lynch. Watch out for No.24 -- he has rushed for more than 100 yards in 16 of his last 25 games and has made the Pro Bowl each of the past two years.
Lynch got only five carries in the preseason, but don't be fooled by that. The Seahawks were just trying to limit his hits because he's going to take so many in 2013, and he will be a workhorse Sunday. If he rips off a lot of 8-10 yard runs, Carolina's defense never will have much chance to use its pass rush. The Seahawks ran the ball more than any other NFL team in 2012, which took a lot of the pressure off Wilson. Rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei needs to have a big game Sunday inside to allow middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to zero in on Lynch.
-- In Carolina's 16-12 loss to Seattle in Charlotte a year ago, the Panther offense generated a measly three points. The touchdown came from Captain Munnerlyn's interception return of a Wilson pass, and the Seahawks took an intentional safety late in the game.
-- Does Jon Beason have something to prove Sunday? You bet he does. The Panther linebacker was once in the middle of the Carolina defense and a team captain. Now he is neither of one of those things -- he has shifted to outside linebacker to accommodate Kuechly's emergence and he was not voted a team captain this season. How well Beason plays -- and if he can stay on the field after missing 27 of the past 32 games due to injury -- is a huge key for Carolina this season.
-- In my prediction column that will appear in print in Saturday's special Panthers section and is already online, I picked the Panthers to go 10-6 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 this year. My colleague Tom Sorensen was more pessimistic, picking them to go 8-8.
If the Panthers are going to get it done this season, these are the types of games they must win -- at home against a quality opponent. My pick: Carolina 23, Seattle 21.
6 months ago