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Inevitable Matchup Becomes Reality

CHARLOTTE – Safety Roman Harper was in disbelief. The Vikings are going to beat the Seahawks in the Wild Card round with a 27-yard field goal? That's not how he thought this was supposed to go.

"When I saw Minnesota lining up for the kick I was starting to ask myself and ask God, 'I thought we were supposed to play Seattle?'" Harper said.

"Then he missed the kick. I was like, 'All right, I'll just be quiet.'"

Harper and many of his Panthers teammates, who claimed a dramatic comeback victory at Seattle in Week 6, feel this NFC Divisional Playoff against the Seahawks was inevitable.

"After we played them (in Week 6), we said, 'We'll see you again in the playoffs,'" cornerback Josh Norman said. "It's ironic that we're seeing them again in the playoffs. It's cool. Fate gives you these chances to prove yourself worthy."

Many consider the sixth-seeded Seahawks, the two-time defending NFC champions, one of the most dangerous teams in the postseason. Their playoff pedigree speaks for itself, and they ended the regular season winning eight of their last 10 games.

Norman and the top-seeded Panthers embrace the challenge Seattle presents.

"Why would you want anything in life that's easy? If you don't go for it head-on, then how can you say you're the best at anything?" Norman said. "I think that's the way we are in our society. We want things the easy way and stuff to be given to us. Don't want to work for it, want things to be handed to us. I don't think that's the way it should be done.

"Go through it the hard way. Challenge yourself to be the best, and if you can be the best, beat the best. Right now we are at the top of our game, and they are as well."

Last season at this same stage of the playoffs, the Seahawks were the NFC's top seed, and they knocked out a Carolina team that rallied to make the playoffs despite a 7-8-1 record. That didn't make the loss any easier to take, though, for a Panthers team that had won five in a row and had pushed the Seahawks to the brink earlier in the season.

"It was probably one of the toughest losses because of where we were in the playoffs and our dreams and hopes for going to the Super Bowl," defensive end Kony Ealy said. "But last year was last year and this year is this year. We've got the chance to correct a wrong."

The Panthers took a big step toward overtaking Seattle in the big picture with their Week 6 victory, but it's a whole new ballgame now. Head coach Ron Rivera reminded his team of that Monday morning when he set the tone for the week of preparation in a team meeting.

"We've gotten to where we are because of what we did in the regular season, but now that doesn't matter," Rivera said. "This is a one-and-done situation, so the sense of urgency has to be there all the time.

"With our guys, it's just reminding them of what it's all about."

The Panthers responded positively to the reminder, even if they didn't truly need it.

"We're ready for it," Harper said. "I think we are the better team. We have to go out there and show confidence of who we are and the things that we've done all year long. Don't back away from it, don't shy away from it."

Staff writer Max Henson and senior writer Bryan Strickland contributed to this report.

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