There is not a single team that will admit they are afraid to play against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in the playoffs.
But NFC teams should privately have plenty of anxiety.
Seattle dismantled the Saints at home on Monday, 34-7, and the game was worse than the score indicates. Seattle is 14-0 at home over the past two seasons with Russell Wilson under center.
Seattle also reclaimed the Guinness World Record for the loudest recorded crowd at an outdoor sporting event on Monday. The crowd noise clearly affected New Orleans, and considering Seattle will likely secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, that's another benefit for this 11-1 team.
Is there any team capable of winning at Seattle in the playoffs?
Actually, there are three.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco has a good chance for several reasons.
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh's familiarity with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll dates back to when they coached and Stanford and USC, respectively. Harbaugh knows what to expect from Carroll, and considering both teams face each other twice a year in the NFC West, it will be easy to prepare for the Seahawks.
San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree made his season debut against St. Louis on Sunday after suffering a right Achilles tendon injury this offseason. Crabtree provides the 49ers with another major offensive weapon. Seattle hopes receiver Percy Harvin is healthy soon, as he continues to battle a hip injury, and perhaps that would cancel out Crabtree's return. Either way, Crabtree's return is a major boost for San Francisco's passing game.
Seattle has played very well against the 49ers at home the last two seasons. The Seahawks defeated San Francisco 42-13 at home in 2012. The 49ers were defeated 29-3 earlier this season in CenturyLink Field. Despite those struggles, Harbaugh and the 49ers defeated Atlanta on the road in last season’s NFC championship game, and they are capable of pulling off another big road playoff win against a No. 1 seed this season.
Seattle defeated Carolina, 12-7, in Week 1. Of course, Carolina is a much better team now, and another threat to Seattle’s dominance once the playoffs begin.
Carolina has won eight straight games. The Panthers’ defense allows a league-best 13.1 points a game and 298.8 yards per game (second in the NFL). Seattle leads the league in the fewest yards allowed per game at 284.5.
The Panthers' defensive front seven is loaded. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly has 102 tackles and three interceptions this season. Defensive end Charles Johnson has 8.5 sacks this season. Linebacker Thomas Davis, defensive end Greg Hardy and rookie tackle Star Lotulelei are all difference makers too.
Meanwhile, quarterback Cam Newton has thrown 19 touchdowns and also has rushed for six scores. His versatility has helped running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert stand out this season, while receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell have been reliable.
Carolina’s biggest hindrance is its lack of playoff experience. However, this team has the potential to pull off an upset in Seattle.
Ah, those inconsistent Detroit Lions. They make you believe they are the real deal one week, but force you question that thought process the next time you watch them. It's a squad that can lose at home to Tampa Bay, then tear apart the Packers on Thanksgiving four days later.
That being said, Detroit is potentially the NFC’s most dangerous playoff team.
Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner is facing a year-long league suspension, and without him Seattle might have some trouble against the Lions. Stopping Calvin Johnson is a difficult task for a complete secondary. It is nearly impossible for a depleted unit. Sometimes a playoff upset happens because one player takes over a game, and Johnson is absolutely capable of doing that.
Johnson has 1,299 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns this season, including a 329-yard performance against Dallas. On Thanksgiving, Johnson had six catches for 101 yards and one touchdown against Green Bay, while quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns and Reggie Bush added 182 yards and a touchdown. Seattle could have a difficult time figuring out which Lions player to key on during the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s defense limited Green Bay to 126 yards and did not allow an offensive touchdown. The Lions are talented enough to hold Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch in check. Detroit defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah could disrupt Wilson’s rhythm, and linebacker DeAndre Levy has a league-leading six interceptions.
The Lions are inconsistent, capable of looking great one week and terrible the next. If it turns out they're on one of their good weeks for a trip to Seattle, don't be surprised if they're the team that shocks the Seahawks in January.
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