Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers – Bank of American Stadium at 18:05 live on Sky Sports 2
This game is by far the hardest to call and I could make cases for both of these teams advancing to the next round. The Panthers and Seahawks are almost mirror images of each other; they possess underrated passing attacks led by mobile QBs, complex running games (both teams should also get their starters back this week too), and defences that possess good depth at every position.
I really do expect this game to be close and given that both teams feature in the top 10 in both offense and defence this season, it’s hard to gauge who will win the battle and whether it will be high or low scoring! QBs Russell Wilson and Cam Newton have combined for 49 TDs and just 2 INTs over the last 7 games so the potential is there for either offense to explode, but I would also not be surprised if the defences locked down their opponents either.
For me, it comes down to the fact that the Seahawks have to travel across the country after a bruising encounter with the Vikings in freezing temperatures, which surely pushed them to the limit. Conversely, the Panthers have had a week off and are playing at home, where they haven’t lost a game since November 2014.
Throw in the fact that the Panthers are 4-0 against playoff teams this season, compared to the Seahawks 3-4 record and I believe that Carolina have the slight edge here. I’ll be backing the Panthers -1.5.
Carolina’s offense is the unit that I think will win the day here and I believe that TE Greg Olsen will be the key – he put up 131 yards and a TD against Seattle in the regular season and we’ve seen on multiple occasions (including last week against Kyle Rudolph and in the Super Bowl against Rob Gronkowski) that despite being a very good player, Seahawks Safety Kam Chancellor can be beaten by athletic TEs. If the Panthers can get Olsen involved early and often, I believe they’ll come away with the win.
Handicap Betting Preview: Carolina Panthers -1.5 at 1.87
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos – Sports Authority Field at Mile High at 21:40 live on Sky Sports 2
Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati came with a huge price as some of the Steelers’ key players went down injured in the game. At the time of writing, WR Antonio Brown has been ruled out with a concussion after suffering a vicious late hit last week and QB Ben Roethlisberger is still questionable to play with various shoulder injuries.
I fully expect Roethlisberger to play, but having your best offensive player playing at less than 100% and also being without his favourite target (and the league’s best WR in my opinion) is not what you want when going against Denver’s league-leading defence, that only allowed 283.1 yards a game.
It’s hard to overstate what a big loss Brown is as he torched the Broncos when these teams met in the regular season (189 yards and 2 TDs), but I can’t be buying into the size of the handicap that’s on offer here, especially since Peyton Manning will be starting at QB for Denver. I’ll be taking Steelers +7.5 in this one.
Even with Roethlisberger playing hurt, the case can be made that he’s still the better QB in this matchup as Manning was poor to the point of getting benched this season. He completed fewer than 60% of his passes, threw only 9 TDs to 17 INTs and had a passer rating of 67.9 – bad numbers!
Against Denver’s mighty defence I can’t see the Steelers having too much of a chance to pull off an upset, but with Manning at QB for the Broncos and Pittsburgh’s defence playing much better of late I find it hard to see them winning by more than a TD in this one. Indeed, of their 12 wins this season, the Broncos won 9 of those games by 7 points or fewer.
Handicap Betting Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers +7.5 at 1.90
Prices correct at the time of writing.
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