Centurylink Field – Sunday 11th January at 01:15 live on Sky Sports 2
The least competitive looking Play Off game of the weekend also features the one with the widest spread as the Carolina Panthers visit the Seattle Seahawks in the late Saturday game.
The teams may be a mirror of one another, but there are some key elements ahead of this game that could make all the difference in which team comes through. Everything is pointing to the Seattle Seahawks to win this game by a wide margin beginning with the injury that Cam Newton suffered at the end of the win over the Arizona Cardinals in the Wild Card Round of the Play Offs.
If Newton’s ankle is not up to par, the Quarter Back is not going to be effective running the ball and taking away that element is only going to make it that much tougher for Jonathan Stewart and the Panthers to establish the run. That is Carolina’s first point of call and they have been running the ball up and down the field against teams over the last five weeks, but now face the Seattle Seahawks who have the second best rushing Defence in the NFL.
They have only improved in each passing week and the Seahawks will feel it is a win every time they can keep Carolina in 3rd and 5 or longer situations. The pass rush has been finding a way home without taking away too many men from coverage in obvious passing downs and Newton was not accurate enough last week to suggest he can keep the Panthers moving the chains consistently against the Legion of Boom.
Seattle should be much better running the ball in this game through Marshawn Lynch and the ability Russell Wilson has to get out of the pocket and take off for gains on the ground. While Carolina have limited teams to 107 yards per game on the season, this team is still giving up 4.4 yards per carry and now their Defensive Line is missing Star Lotulelei who is a huge body that will be difficult to replace.
Add the fact that Max Unger returns to the Seattle Offensive Line at Centre and Lynch and Co should be able to wear down the Defensive front and get the Seahawks into third and manageable situations. That should negate an improved pass rush that the Panthers have displayed in the continued absence of Greg Hardy and should also mean the play-action should open up plenty of passing lanes for Russell Wilson when he decides to take shots downfield.
Unlike the Baltimore game at New England, I am actually favouring the team that all the ‘experts’ seem to think will struggle this week- a lot of people have spoken of Carolina’s ability to run the ball and how they will have a chance for an upset in Seattle, but I think key injuries is actually sending the edge in favour of the Number 1 Seed in the NFC.
Those Number 1 Seeds are 0-4 against the spread in the last four seasons in this Conference, but favourites of 10 plus points in this Round are actually 15-11-1 against the spread. People have also spoken about how close Carolina have played Seattle in recent games with the last three decided by a combined 13 points, but all of those were on the East Coast and the Panthers have lost by 17 and 20 points in their last two games in Seattle.
Carolina have been very strong in revenging losses to teams in recent seasons, going 11-2 against the spread in that spot over the last three seasons, but Newton being banged up and the absence of Star Lotulelei are huge blows to their team. Seattle are also a very strong home favourite to back and I will look for them to snap the NFC’s Number 1 Seed struggles against the spread in recent seasons.
It will likely be a close game for a while with both teams pounding the ball, but look for Seattle to wear down Carolina and eventually come through with a big win.
PICK: Seattle Seahawks – 10.5 Points at 1.95
Price correct at time of writing
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