SEATTLE (AP) – By this point, they might as well consider Seattle and Carolina a divisional game.
For the seventh time in five years, the Panthers and Seahawks will meet on Sunday night each with a different sense of urgency heading into the final month of the regular season.
Seattle (7-3-1) reverted to its inconsistent form of earlier this season in a loss last week to Tampa Bay that now leaves the Seahawks, while still in complete control of the NFC West, with no room for error in trying to hold off others in the NFC for the No. 2 seed and a coveted first-round bye in the playoffs.
The level of urgency is far greater for the defending NFC champion Panthers.
After last week’s loss in Oakland , the Panthers (4-7) are three games behind in the NFC South race and 2½ games behind Washington for the final wild-card spot with five games to go.
There is time for Carolina, but it’s running short to avoid joining the list of Super Bowl participants to miss the postseason the following year.
“We’ve lost five games by three points or less. We had opportunities to win football games down the stretch and didn’t do it,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said.
“Those are things that unfortunately we just didn’t do. We did it last year and that’s probably the hard pill to swallow.”
There’s also the Super Bowl hangover, something that Rivera acknowledged researching what Seattle coach Pete Carroll did following the back-to-back trips by the Seahawks to the championship game to try and figure out ways to avoid a swoon by his team.
“I think it’s got a little bit to do with it. The truth of the matter is if you win the first game, things can be different. Unfortunately we didn’t, so we have to battle uphill,” Rivera said.
Unlike the Panthers, thus far at least, Seattle was able to overcome early troubles following both of its Super Bowl trips to find a way back to the postseason.
“I think you have to be prepared for it way before you ever get to it,” Carroll said.
“If it’s the…