By Shawn S. Lealos

The Carolina Panthers are preparing to battle the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional round of the playoffs. With the teams playing each other for the second year in a row in the NFL postseason, the Panthers hope to improve and make it back to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. Here is a look at the team news heading into this big playoff game.

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Panthers Credit Devin Funchess Hard Work

When the 2015 NFL season started, the Carolina Panthers lost their starting wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and many people started to write them off. There was no other receiver on the team that was near the level of Benjamin, and the Panthers only hoped that rookie Devin Funchess would step up and fulfill the promise the Panthers saw in him when they drafted him. He started off rocky, suffering a hamstring injury and then dropping passes to start the season. Over the year, he improved and finished with 31 receptions for 473 yards and five touchdowns. “Probably Week 6-7-8 he showed us he knew enough, and you started to see the growth,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “The more he got on the field, the better he played. Competition makes everybody else better. You can see it.”

Panthers Secondary Promotes Thieve Ave.

The Carolina Panthers coined their own phrase this year, as they loved the motto “thievery.” This led to the team improving on their 2014 takeaway numbers and finishing this year with 24 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries. The Panthers led the NFL in turnover ratio with a plus 20. Heading into the postseason, and their upcoming game with the Seattle Seahawks, Carolina made it official by sticking up a sign that said “Thieve Ave.” That is just a way to show that the unit is proud of their accomplishment, despite the poor grammar. Strong safety Roman Harper loved the idea but not the sign itself. “It’s terrible. It’s terrible spelling,” Harper said. “So we’re going to get this corrected. You guys come back tomorrow and we’re going to have this thing right. … I went to Alabama. I have a decent education. I know how to spell Thieves Ave. All right? Let’s go.”

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Panthers Happy to Play Tough Seahawks

When a team ends up with their number one seed in the playoffs, it is more than just home field advantage. They also get to play the lowest seeded team in the divisional round. However, in 2015 that didn’t matter. The two lowest seeds are the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, the two teams that played in the NFC Championship game last season. Carolina plays the Seahawks, who were in the last two Super Bowls, and to Carolina players, they are happy with the match-up. “You want the tough team, man,” said Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman. “I don’t know why you want the easy way out. That’s not the way you should live life, taking the easy way out. You always want to do something the hard way, just because it means that much more.”

The Big Rematch with Seattle

While the Seattle Seahawks provide a tough opponent for the Carolina Panthers, it also provides a chance for revenge. Last year, it was the Seahawks that eliminated the Panthers from the playoffs in a 31-17 victory. They also met in the NFC Championship game in 2005, which was a 34-14 blowout. This gives Carolina a chance to finally overtake the Seahawks in the most important time of the year. Carolina has been to the playoffs seven times, and have only made it to the Super Bowl once. If they want to make it there for a second time, they have to finally get past the Seattle Seahawks. 

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Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos.