Pat Yasinskas: They both are very good, but I’ll give a slight edge to the Seahawks. I just think they are a more complete team and quarterback Russell Wilson gets more impressive every time I see him. If Seattle can get the home-field advantage, I think the Seahawks will end up representing the NFC in the Super Bowl.
RR: Walk us through what has taken place in Charlotte with the surging Carolina Panthers, who have won five straight games. Can the Panthers make the playoffs for the first since 2008?
PY: After going through two losing seasons, Coach Ron Rivera stuck to his core beliefs. That finally has paid off. Carolina’s front seven is as good as any in the league. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula seems to have found the proper way to mix Cam Newton’s passing abilities with the running game. The other thing to keep in mind is that Rivera started 2-8 in each of his first two seasons and then the Panthers finished strong. A strong finish this time will land the Panthers in the playoffs.
RR: Let’s talk about Sunday’s match-up in Tampa that features the Buccaneers and the Falcons – two bitter NFC South rivals who are both having tough seasons. What kind of game are you expecting and who do you like on Sunday?
PY: “Tough seasons’’ is an understatement. I picked the Falcons to win the Super Bowl and I wasn’t alone. I also had the Bucs going 9-7, so my predictions aren’t holding up too well. I expect a close game and I expect it to be an entertaining one. In division rivalries, records go out the window.
RR: Now that Green Bay starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers is sidelined for the next few weeks, which NFC North team is in the driver’s seat to win that division in 2013?
PY: I’ve got to go with Detroit. Calvin Johnson is playing at a Hall of Fame level and is making quarterback Matthew Stafford look very good.
RR: Huge game this weekend in Denver when the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs head to Denver to face the Broncos. The Chiefs showcase one of the best pass rushes in the NFL and Denver QB Peyton Manning is not at full strength with a series of lower leg injuries. Who do you like in this game?
PY: I’m totally impressed with what the Chiefs have done, but I like the Broncos in this one. I think the Broncos are more battle tested.
RR: Let’s get back to Sunday’s game in Tampa. The Falcons have won 8 of the past 10 games against Tampa Bay including a 31-23 decision in Atlanta in October. The Falcons have won three of the past four meetings in Tampa Bay. Do they make it four of five with a win on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium?
PY: I’ll take the Falcons to win this game because Matt Ryan is much better than Mike Glennon.
RR: And finally, give us your take on the Falcons and their chances of bouncing back this season with all of the problems they have had from an injury and personnel standpoint. Can the Falcons find a way to salvage what thus far has been a really tough 2013 campaign?
PY: I think the Falcons will fall short of the playoffs. But I know coach Mike Smith well enough to know that the second half of the season still will be important. I look for Smith to play even more young players down the stretch in order to get his team ready for 2014.