by Sharon Thorsland

Denver Broncos v Carolina Panthers

The Panthers travel to one of the toughest environments in the NFL on Sunday, taking on the Seahawks at Lumen Field. Both teams are fighting to stay in playoff contention – the Seahawks are 7-5 on the season coming off a last minute win over the Rams. The Panthers had a bye last week and are sitting at 4-8 on the year, but remain in the mix in the NFC South.

This is a new-look Seahawks team – longtime quarterback Russell Wilson is now in Denver, so it’s veteran Geno Smith running the offense. The former Jets quarterback leads a passing attack that averages 244 yards per game, that’s 7th in the NFL. He’s thrown 22 touchdowns and six interceptions, and he’s also a threat to run. Smith’s top receivers are Pro Bowlers Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, they’ve combined for 1634 yards and 12 touchdowns, former Bronco’s tight end Noah Fant also gets plenty of targets. The Seahawks like to run the ball and they’ve got an excellent in back in Kenneth Walker, who took over when starter Rashaad Penny went down with an ankle injury in week five. Walker is an explosive runner and is tough to tackle, but he injured his ankle last week and is a game time decision.

The Panthers will go with Sam Darnold at quarterback for the second straight week, PJ Walker will back him up with Baker Mayfield gone to the Rams. Darnold and the Panthers will face a Seahawks defense that is giving up a lot of yards and points this season, ranking near the bottom of the league in points allowed, total yards and rushing yards. But they’re one of the best teams in the league in forcing turnovers, ranking second in the NFL with 21 takeaways. Ten of those have come from rookie cornerbacks Coby Bryant (four forced fumbles) and Tariq Woolen, who is tied for first in the NFL with six interceptions. Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu leads the team with nine sacks, veteran safety Quandre Diggs has two picks.

This is no doubt a huge game for the Panthers. The playoffs are still a possibility but they’ve got to beat the Seahawks to stay in the mix. That won’t be easy – the Panthers have only won once at Lumen Field. But they know what’s at stake – and they’re confident they can get it done. “We’re in playoff mentality right now,” said Brady Christiansen. “This is a must win for us to do what we want to do.