On the eve of this very matchup, just less than a year ago, two headlines swirled through the sports world with enough wind to provide a distressing narrative regarding the Seattle Seahawks' season: The sky was falling. The champions were on the ropes.
As the Seahawks (then 3-3) prepared to play the Panthers last October, amid noise that Seattle's locker room was tired of Russell Wilson's cozy relationship with management, it was also reported that Marshawn Lynch would not be returning to the team in 2015.
"After six games last year, we were floundering," coach Pete Carroll admitted this week. "Guys were trying to do the right thing, but we weren't really connected in the way you need to be to really feed off one another energetically.
"We're connected differently at this time, but we still have to improve our play."
Perhaps this is as good a time as any to get ahead of that narrative while reminding the football world of 2014's lesson: Six games doesn't define a season (especially when half of the games played are wins). Early drama doesn't guarantee late turmoil. Teams grow. People rally.
In fact, you could easily make the case that Seattle, despite being two games behind Arizona in the NFC West race, is literally the frontrunner to play for the NFC championship against the Packers once again in January. That's not intended to be a knock on the Falcons, Panthers or Cardinals as much as a recognition of the Seahawks' formula.
First of all, each of the Seahawks' three losses this season have come on the road against formidable foes (St. Louis, Green Bay and Cincinnati). And while Sunday's epic collapse against the Bengals surely stings, there would be no better medicine than a trip home to beat a previously undefeated Panthers team that has provided a tough but lucrative fight in each of their last four meetings.
More importantly, the Seahawks seem to enjoy these situations, if not thrive from them. Since 2012, no team has a better record in November and December. Seattle, with an incredible 21-4 record during those months, is the epitome of a team that should not be counted out.
"Everybody in here has been in this position before in their life, kind of back-against-the-wall, people doubting, and we've always came out," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "I'm confident in us, I believe in us. I know we're 2-3, but we'll be fine."
That's not to say Seattle should merely rest on its past, especially when its past hasn't generally been formulated by the type of fourth-quarter losses that have plagued the team in the 2015 campaign. Each season writes its own story, and this season no doubt will have its own twists and turns.
But it would be equally naïve to ignore the Seahawks' upside. They got Kam Chancellor back from a contract holdout after two absent weeks to start the season. They'll get Lynch back this week after he sat out the last two weeks with a hamstring injury. And they know, better than most teams of recent seasons, that a sluggish start to the season and a hot finish are not mutually exclusive.
They've been here before, against the ropes, and battled back to the middle of the ring.
"We're not dead and gone," Carroll said. "We don't feel like that at all."