Carolina Panthers (8-8-1 SU, 9-8 ATS) vs. Seattle Seahawks (12-4 SU, 10-6 ATS)
NFL Football Divisional Playoffs
Date and Time: Saturday January 10th, 2015. 8:15PM EST
Where: Century Link Field Seattle, W.A.
by Jay, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Panthers +11/Seahawks -11
Over/Under Total: 40
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The Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs move to the home of the 12th man this Saturday night when the Seattle Seahawks host the Carolina Panthers at Century Link Field. The Panthers earned their trip to the playoffs by winning the AFC South. I say earned lightly as it took just a 7-8-1 record to accomplish that feat. Still, Carolina proved last week that they can be contenders with a decisive 27-16 victory against Arizona in one of the best defensive performances in playoffs history. The Panthers defense, which has become one of the best in the NFL, held the Cardinals to just 78 total yards for the entire game. However the stakes pick up this week for the Panthers as they go into the home of the 12th man, the home of the NFLs best defense, and the home of the defending Super Bowl Champions in the Seattle Seahawks.
Rest assured, defense will be at the forefront of this weeks preview surrounding the Panthers and Seahawks. Back in week 8, the Seahawks beat the Panthers 13-9 in Charlotte in a defensive grudge match. However, it is pretty obvious that both teams are playing much better than they were in that previous meeting this season. The Seahawks closed out the season by winning 9 of their last 10 games with strong defensive play. So just how strong has Seattles defense been? Consider the fact the Seahawks gave up just 6.5 points on average during their past 6 games. Yeh, that strong. Therefore, rest assured Richard Sherman and company will be fired up and ready for the challenge when the Panthers roll into town this week.
On the other side of the field, the Panthers defense will also be looking to flex their muscles yet again this week. The Panthers defense had a great outing last week. The defensive line led by Charles Johnson was able to keep pressure on Arizona quarterback Ryan Lindley and Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly proved multiple times why he is the best linebacker in the NFL. However, the challenge will be much tougher this week as the defense will not be against a depleted offense with a 3rd string quarterback like they were against Arizona. No, now they get the elusive threat of quarterback Russell Wilson who is known for breaking defenses down with both his arm and his running ability. How the Panthers defense contains Wilson and Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch will be critical towards keep their chances at an upset in reach.
The Panthers are currently listed as 11 point underdogs in Saturday nights matchup making them the biggest underdog of the Divisional playoff weekend. It appears bookmakers were not overly impressed with the Panthers victory last week or perhaps they are just giving Seattle that much credit. However, I think the case can be made for both scenarios. Seattle is the toughest place to play at in the NFL and their defense is going to present a tough matchup for the Panthers offense. Additionally, Russell Wilson is the type of quarterback that can move around and make plays which will frustrate Carolinas defense if they allow it to happen.
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Ultimately, the Panthers chances of a win or even keeping it within the 11 point spread fall on the arm of quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers have run the ball well in recent weeks through the legs of running back Jonathan Stewart. However, Newton is going to have to prove he is a big time NFL quarterback this week. Newton was not very sharp in last weeks victory against Arizona. He did get credited with two touchdowns. However they were compiled of a screen pass that went 40 yards to Fozzy Whitaker and another 1 yard touchdown pass to Mike Tolbert.
For the rest of the game, Newton was highly inefficient completing just 18 of 32 passes and throwing 1 interception that was nearly returned for a touchdown. If you look over the last 9 games, Newton has tossed just 12 touchdowns with 10 interceptions which is hardly the numbers you want from a franchise quarterback that you have built your team around. This week the Panthers offense will need Newton to be at his best. Seattle is going to stack the box against the Panthers running game and dare Newton to throw the football against their ridiculously talented secondary. Perhaps Newton will have the chance to prove to Carolina that he has been worth the investment.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I really think the Panthers can keep this game close and contend against Seattle barring turnovers. However, the Panthers gave the ball away last week on special teams and with an interception that basically led to all of Arizonas points. If those mistakes happen again this week, Seattle will make them pay in a big way. Therefore I am staying away from the side because it is just too risky. Instead, take the under 40 as the best bet of the game!