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Seahawks vs. Panthers: How the NFC playoff teams match up

Seahawks vs. Panthers: How the NFC playoff teams match up
Seahawks running backMarshawn Lynchpicks up yards against the 49ers during a game Oct. 22. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

Marshawn Lynch is back for the Seattle Seahawks.

But is Beast Mode?

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Lynch, the hard-running bruiser, is expected to return for Sunday's divisional playoff game at Carolina at 10 a.m. (to be broadcast on FOX) after sitting out since Nov. 15 because of an abdominal surgery that sidelined him for eight games.

The Seahawks haven't missed a beat without him, winning seven games, including six in which they scored at least 29 points.

But he has been an integral part of their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, and Seattle could use him not only to get into the end zone but to control the clock.

Lynch participated in three days of practice last week, and, according to Coach Pete Carroll, he "had a great week."

"He was faster and more explosive this week than last week," Carroll told reporters after Friday's practice.

"You can see that he made an improvement."

Asked by a Canadian reporter if he knows what to expect from Lynch against the Panthers, Carroll needled the questioner. "Have you been around here very long, with Marshawn and all of that?" the coach said.

"Not always do we know. He's somewhat unpredictable in certain ways."

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Stop the music

The Seahawks have all sorts of respect for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, the presumptive NFL most valuable player who led his team to a 15-1 record. They just don't want to see him dance.

After all, if Newton is dancing, that probably means he just scored a touchdown. As for the dancing itself? Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett doesn't have a problem with that.

"I don't think anybody likes anybody that wins and tries to rub it in a little bit," Bennett said. "But I mean, if you want somebody not to do something, you just gotta stop them. If you hold a team to zero points then you don't see any dancing.

"If they're winning and you can't stop 'em .. . they should do that. I mean, they should rub it in — it'll make you want play harder. More people are worried about them dancing than stopping them. When you stop a team, they can't do what you don't want them to do."

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Keeping it tight

When the Panthers lost star receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury this summer, it looked as if they were doomed. They obviously weren't — far from it — and the play of tight end Greg Olsen is part of the reason why.

Olsen had 77 catches this season for 1,104 yards with seven touchdowns. He's the league's only tight end with at least five touchdown receptions in each of the past eight seasons.

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By the numbers

How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for turnover differential, which is for the season (league rank in parentheses):

STATISTICS: SEA | CAR

Points scored: 26.4 (T4) | 31.2 (1)

Points allowed: 17.3 (1) | 19.2 (6)

Pass offense: 236.9 (20) | 224.3 (24)

Rush offense: 141.8 (3) | 142.6 (2)

Pass defense: 210.2 (2) | 234.5 (11)

Rush defense: 81.5 (1) | 88.4 (4)

Sacks: 37 (17) | 44 (6)

Penalty yards: 62.9 (T23) | 55.4 (14)

Turnovers: +6 (T6) | +20 (1)

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Farmer's pick

This figures to be a physical rematch from earlier this season. The Panthers will put the clamps on Seattle's running game and put heavy pressure on Russell Wilson. In the end, Newton will be the difference maker for Carolina.

PANTHERS 19, SEAHAWKS 16

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