Both the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks will trot out a slew of talented players on Sunday. These players create matchup nightmares with their skill and athleticism, until they are checked by an equally fearsome opponent. A number of these mighty clashes will go down on Sunday in Charlotte, and they will determine which way the score swings:
Steve Smith vs. Richard Sherman
This is one of the premier wide-receiver/ defensive back matchups in Week 1, and it also might be the best one for trash talking this year.
Both players are extremely physical, so look for Sherman to try and jam Smith early and often. Smith has the speed to gash Sherman on deep routes if he can beat the press, but he’s going to have to out-muscle one of the best press corners in the league.
If Smith can get open against Sherman and establish the passing game for the Panthers, it would take an enormous amount of pressure off of Cam Newton, which should limit turnovers and reduce the amount of men in the box, making room for DeAngelo Williams to run.
Luke Kuechly vs. Marshawn Lynch
If the Panthers want to have any hope of winning, they have to stop Beast Mode, and no one is more suited to do so than Kuechly.
Lynch certainly has the power to run through any tackle, but Kuechly’s read-and-react ability should allow him to get to Lynch before he can build up a head of steam. That ability will only be useful though if Kuechly can run unhindered, a task that lies on the shoulders of the Panthers’ defensive line, specifically the interior.
If Star Lutulelei and Dwan Edwards can get a good push up front and keep the Seahawks’ offensive line from getting to the second level, then the Panthers will have a chance of stopping Lynch.
Jordan Gross vs. Chris Clemons
This matchup will likely have greatest impact on the outcome of the game. Gross needs to have a game against Clemons for the Panthers’ offense to succeed, both in terms of pass protection and clearing lanes in the run game.
Newton needs to stay upright and composed for the offense to stay in rhythm and to prevent errant turnovers, and the run game must be there to take the pressure off Cam and prevent long third downs. That will be hard, though, against the ultra-talented Clemons, even if he is coming back from major knee surgery.