CHARLOTTE, N.C. – I've been trying to think of a proper analogy for the next two weeks. It's kind of like the undercard of a boxing lineup leading up to the main event. However, the Seahawks can't afford to lose to either the Panthers or the Cardinals.
One defeat would eliminate the importance of the Week 17 finale against the 49ers. So in that sense, maybe these two games are more like the levels in a video game before you get to the boss battle – you know what's coming but you still have to survive in order to get there.
Anyway, Seattle is on the road in Week 15 for the final time in the 2019 regular season. The Seahawks will take on a reeling Panthers team that is coming off of a 40-20 bloodbath against the Falcons. Here are five players who will play vital roles in whether or not Seattle comes home with a win.
1. RB Chris Carson
It's Carson's show once again now that Rashaad Penny (knee) is done for the season. He'll reassume a bell cow-type role in Seattle's backfield with C.J. Prosise, and maybe even Travis Homer, sprinkled in. Overshadowed in the loss to the Rams was Carson reaching 1,000 yards for the second-straight season. His fumbling has been an issue (he has seven this season), but Carson has been very impressive otherwise.
Carolina's run defense ranks dead last in the NFL as the Panthers are allowing a robust 5.3 yards per carry this season. Expect to see Carson claim his sixth 100-yard game of the season.
2. WR Tyler Lockett
Lockett is overdue for a big game. Everyone from Brian Schottenheimer to Russell Wilson indicated that Lockett is back to 100% after dealing with a leg contusion and the flu. It's no coincidence that Seattle's passing game has been quiet without Lockett looking like his normal self. Opposing defenses have been playing to take away the deep ball from Seattle, and that's led the Seahawks to put an even greater emphasis on their running game.
But Seattle must get Lockett going down the stretch. Even if he's not able to take the top off of Carolina's secondary, a performance like you saw in Pittsburgh in Week 2 (10 catches for 79 yards) would more than suffice.
3. LB Cody Barton
Barton will make his second-straight start at SAM linebacker with Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) out once again. Pete Carroll said Barton played well against the Rams from a "running and hitting standpoint," but he made several rookie mistakes when it came to his assignments. He finished the game with four tackles and one pass defended. Seattle expects Barton to be much more comfortable this time around.
"It was fast and furious and he was busting his tail trying to run around and make his plays and all that," Pete Carroll said. "I think he'll be settled in even more so. He's such a smart kid. He works so hard at it. It's so important to him. He'll take advantage of one week to the next week. I think you'll see him improve for a long time now because of the way he applies himself. We're expecting him to make a little jump and just clean it up."
4. CB Shaquill Griffin
Griffin picked up a hamstring injury in the loss to the Rams. After practicing on a limited basis on Wednesday, the team's top corner didn't practice in any capacity on Thursday or Friday. He's listed as questionable, and Carroll indicated that he'd be a game-time decision on Sunday. Seattle doesn't have a ton of depth at corner. Akeem King would likely start if Griffin can't go which would potentially allow Ugo Amadi to get some reps at nickel. Carolina has a pair of talented wide receivers in D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, so missing Griffin would be a big loss for the Seahawks defense.
5. DE Ziggy Ansah
Like Griffin, Ziggy Ansah is also questionable to play against the Panthers and will be a game-time decision. He missed the Rams game with a neck injury that stemmed from a shoulder stinger he suffered against the Vikings in Week 13. He was able to be a limited participant in practice all week which should mean he's trending in the right direction.
With Jadeveon Clowney (core/illness) out in this one, Seattle will need a big game from Ansah. That's exactly what the veteran pass rusher provided the last time Clowney was out with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in Week 12 against the Eagles.
Week 15 preview: 5 Seahawks players to watch against the Panthers originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest