Playoffs included, Sunday's divisional-round game between the Seahawks and Panthers will be their sixth meeting in the past four seasons. And aside from Seattle's playoff win last season, all of those recent meetings have been down-to-the wire affairs, with the Seahawks winning every one of them until the Panthers pulled off a comeback victory at CenturyLink Field this season.
Part of the reason the Seahawks and Panthers play each other close is simply that they have both been good teams in recent years, with the Seahawks making the playoffs for four straight seasons and the Panthers making it for three in a row, but another reason every game seems to go down to the wire is that Carolina and Seattle are two very similarly-built teams.
"We're two very similar teams," tight end Luke Willson said. "Their whole team is physical, and what's kind of neat about it is every time we play them, it has been a bit of a bloodbath. I expect the same sort of thing Sunday… It's going to be a great matchup across the board. Both teams are very similar in terms of physicality. They're a fast team, a lot of speed, and so are we. So if you want a football game, this is a good one to tune into."
Not surprisingly given the pedigree of the two head coaches, both teams play good defense, with the Seahawks leading the NFL in scoring defense and the Panthers ranking sixth. Both teams put a premium on winning the turnover battle—Carolina leads the league in turnover differential while Seattle's is tied for fifth—both rank in the top three in rushing yards, and perhaps most notably, both have young star quarterbacks in Cam Newton and Russell Wilson who are enjoying the best seasons of their careers, helping their teams both rank in the top four in scoring.
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett didn't compare the Panthers to an attractive cousin this time around, but he did note that a team coached by a former NFL linebacker is bound to play a similar style to a Pete Carroll-coached team, emphasizing strong defense and offensive balance.
"It's no surprise," Bennett said. "You think about Ron, and the type of player he was, and the type of defense he played in and the type of team he played with. Obviously, he's going to build something in his image. I think he's done a great job of that. If you look at, they have three levels on both sides that are great. I think that's what the challenge is every week when we play them. I think they know the same thing. It's a hardnosed game. It's what America wants to see. They want to see two teams go out and heavyweight fight it. Mike Tyson, (Evander) Holyfield, that type of thing."
Given the physical nature of the games, their frequency and their tight finishes, Carolina-Seattle has started to take on the feeling of a division rivalry even though the two teams are located on opposite coasts.
"It does (feel like a divisional game), it really does," Rivera said on a conference call with Seattle-area media. "I tell you, just playing them every year is hard enough. They're a good football team obviously, and when you play them twice in one year two years in a row it most certainly does feel like a divisional game. Got a lot of respect for what Coach Carroll and his staff have done with that football team."
And that respect definitely goes both ways.
"We've realized the challenge that this team brings is enormous," Carroll said. "They've had a fantastic season in really all phases. Fantastic offense, led by the QB. Cam has done a great job this season. The defense is really good, they've been riding so high on the turnovers. They're leading the NFL in turnover margin, and doing all those things we respect so much. It's a big game, and a big challenge. It'll be fun to go and see what we can do."
Adds Wilson: "They play great football. You're talking about a team that can do it all, they can do it all, and we can too. So we just have to be ready to go, and see what happens on Sunday."
What happens Sunday, more likely than not, will be another close, physical battle between two of the NFC's best—and most similar—franchises.
Take a walk down memory lane with photos from all 10 Divisional playoff game the Seahawks have ever played, including last year's matchup against the Carolina Panthers who the Seahawks face once again in a Divisional playoff game on Sunday.