RENTON, Wash. (AP) It was an innocuous comment about Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner that was just used to fill airtime during a broadcast.

But the comment during the TV broadcast last Sunday that Wagner had ''really come into his own this season'' ignored the fact that Wagner gained recognition and validity for the way he played a season ago when he was a first-team All-Pro selection. Even if that validation wasn't something Wagner actively sought.

''I never really look at it like that. I know the guys in this room don't overlook me because that's all that really matters,'' Wagner said recently. ''Everybody's opinion outside this room is going to change and vary game to game. I go hard for these guys in here and have their respect.''

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This Sunday brings a chance for arguably the two best middle linebackers in football to be on the same field with Carolina visiting Seattle. Panthers standout Luke Kuechly is expected to return after missing three games with a concussion, but the status of Wagner won't be known until closer to game time.

Wagner played most of the final three quarters against Cincinnati with a strained pectoral muscle and his right arm and shoulder wrapped. He briefly left in the fourth quarter but still made seven tackles and returned a fumble 23 yards for the first touchdown of his career.

''The guy comes to work every day, works hard, goes out there and does his job,'' teammate Richard Sherman said. ''Racks up a bunch of tackles, obviously he played injured last game, made huge plays for us with the fumble recovery and touchdown, and you just appreciate a guy who comes to work like that every day.''

Whether he'll be able to play against the Panthers will be a daily discussion, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said on Wednesday. Carroll remained cautious, while teammate K.J. Wright, who would potentially move to middle linebacker if Wagner is out, thinks his teammate is going to play.

Wagner missed five games last season with a severe toe injury but was still impressive enough to be recognized by voters as one of the top middle linebackers in football, along with Kuechly. The Seahawks also recognized his value and locked up Wagner with a $43 million, four-year contract extension before this season.

''I have a benefit and a curse, I guess, of playing on a great defense with a lot of talented players,'' Wagner said. ''I feel like to shine on this defense you really have to be special.''

If Wagner can't play the Seahawks would either shift Wright inside or use backup Brock Coyle. Wright moving would depend on the health of backup Kevin Pierre-Louis, who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury.

Wright said he would take reps at middle linebacker during practice to be ready just in case.

''It's not too much different. You just have to make the calls and get everybody lined up,'' Wright said.

NOTES: Carroll said the expectation is that RB Marshawn Lynch will be able to play Sunday with his normal workload after missing the last two games with a hamstring strain. Carroll said he has no hesitation putting Lynch back in as the starter despite rookie Thomas Rawls rushing for 169 yards last week. ... Seattle signed LB Nick Moody from the practice squad and free agent CB Crezdon Butler to the 53-man roster to help with depth. The Seahawks released WR B.J. Daniels and backup RB Rod Smith.

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