Game day in Seattle was actually sunny Sunday morning. The forecast for the 5:25 p.m. kickoff at CenturyLink Field is just a 15-percent chance of rain with temperatures dropping into the upper 30s -- colder than for any other Seahawks home game this season.
The Seahawks made an expected roster move on Saturday. They activated starting strongside linebacker Mike Morgan off the injured-reserve list as their one designee to return this season. They put linebacker Jordan Tripp on injured reserve, ending his season one week after he made his first career start, at Tampa Bay, then injured his thigh.
My game-advance story in Sunday’s News Tribune described why Russell Wilson is not only healed but more rested this week -- and how both the Seahawks and epecially the Panthers have lost continuity.
Here is the story of how Seahawks coach Pete Carroll tried to help Joe McKnight three weeks before his former running back at USC was shot and killed on Thursday alongside a highway outside New Orleans.
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The keys to Sunday night’s game, the key players and the pick:
CAROLINA PANTHERS (4-7) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (7-3-1)
Sunday 5:30 p.m., CenturyLink Field, Seattle
TV: KING Channel 5 Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM
The series: This is the sixth meeting in four-plus years, including two playoff games. The Panthers took a stunning, 31-0 lead in the first half in January in the divisional playoffs in Charlotte and ended Seattle’s 2015 season with a 31-24 win. That was on Carolina’s way to Super Bowl 50. The Panthers won in Seattle last October with a late touchdown while confusing the Seahawks’ secondary on the winning pass. Before that, the Seahawks had won the previous five meetings back through 2010. The Seahawks lead the all-time regular-season series 5-3.
Line: Seahawks by 7.
It’s all about No. 1: As in, the jersey number for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. He’s on pace for career lows in completion percentage and passer rating for a season. He’s already been sacked almost as many times as all of last season, behind a decimated offensive line that has only one man still standing in the same spot where he started the season. Yet Newton remains the most dangerously multi-dimensional quarterback Seattle will face this season. This is likely the last 2016 stand for the 2015 NFL MVP. He’s going to be trying to win the game largely by himself. The Seahawks have mostly been ready for that in the past; they are 4-2 against him.
Get Rawls going: The coaches keep saying this is like the third preseason game for Thomas Rawls because of the two months he missed with a cracked fibula. But now it’s December. Time for real performances, and a real return to the running game. Carolina is first in the league in yards allowed per carry, but will be missing All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and starting safety Kurt Coleman up the middle. Both are out with concussions. The numbers say Seattle should pass; Carolina is 29th in pass defense with two rookies starting at cornerback. But the Seahawks need to show not only an ability but a willingness to stick with running plays throughout drives and quarters. Their excuse has been Rawls has been too banged up to completely rely upon. Now is the month for fewer excuses and more results for the league’s 27th-ranked rushing offense.
Find some continuity up front: This is no time to be making lineup switches for performance, but that’s what the Seahawks are doing benching Garry Gilliam after 11 starts and putting Bradley Sowell at right tackle. Justin Britt’s return to center after missing last weekend’s dud at Tampa Bay will help re-establish the line’s continuity and chemistry. At least it better. Seattle has no other moves to make on its O-line.
The pick: This is a different team than the one that face-planted at Tampa Bay last weekend, because of the return of five starters from injury. The night will show it’s a better team than that one, too. Seahawks 21, Panthers 13.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
29 Earl Thomas FS 5-10 202 seventh
Buffalo Wild Wings last wk watching his 1st missed game. Likely to be crazed man in injury return
72 Michael Bennett DE 6-4 274 eighth
Back after missing 5 games (knee surgery). His rush big reason SEA’s won 4 of 6 vs Cam Newton
34 Thomas Rawls RB 5-9 215 second
Coaches say he’s in 3rd ‘preseason" game after injuries. Needs to get in playoff-ready mode pronto
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
1 Cam Newton QB 6-5 244 sixth
Still The Show, passing and running. But 2015 NFL MVP on pace for career-low pass %, rating
69 Tyler Larsen C 6-4 313 first
Practice-squad import is Plan C at center. A and B are on IR
28 Jonathan Stewart RB 5--10 235 ninth
Lacey’s, Timberline High’s guy still leading Panthers in rushing, 6th in NFL in rush TDs
This was Carroll on Friday, following Seattle’s final full practice for Sunday night’s game: