If you aren’t sure which side to bet in Sunday’s postseason matchups, thankfully we’ve enlisted the help of expert NFL bloggers to debate why their favorite team covers the spread in the Divisional Round.
Mark Lathrop of Seattle blog Field Gulls stands toe-to-toe with Bill Voth of Carolina blog Black and Blue Review, and Jeff Hartman of Pittsburgh blog Behind the Steel Curtain trades blows with Kaptain Kirk of Denver blog Broncos Planet.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers (-2.5, 44)
WHY THE SEAHAWKS WILL COVER
Mark Lathrop is a contributor for the Field Gulls blog and sportsbookreview.com. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @FieldGulls and @mlathrop3.
Seattle has vastly improved since the last meeting in Week 6
Shortly after that loss, Pete Carroll brought back veteran Patrick Lewis to start at center. Seattle averaged just under 21 points before the bye week and 32 points per game afterwards. This lines up with the shifts on the offensive line, and shows what can happen when you give a quarterback like Wilson an extra beat in the pocket. On defense, with Jeremy Lane and Marcus Burley bringing improved play to the cornerback position, the safeties didn’t have to shade as much to compensate for lack of skill on the outside is one of the reasons that tight ends gave the Seahawks trouble in the beginning of the year. Greg Olsen put together a 7-11, 131-yard line in Week 6 and he won’t be able to repeat it.
Seattle keeps it close, even if they lose
Seattle has not experienced a loss by more than 10 points in the better part of four years, and I believe that Russell Wilson has never lost by more than ten points in his career. A historic defense on your side will help with that. I’d also say that the Seahawks offense is more potent in a desperation situation, when Wilson is forced to improvise and his mobility comes into play. This leads to the occasional back door cover even if they lose the game. I say occasional as the Seahawks have been favored in most games lately. Then consider the fact that Seattle has held a lead in every single game this season. Of course that includes all of the games on the road, which is where Sunday’s game will take place, and includes road matchups at Cincinnati and Green Bay. Seattle may lose, but it will be a close game if they do.
Russell Wilson loves to prove the doubters wrong
Since Russell Wilson took over as the starter in 2012, all he has done is win more games in a four-year period than any other starter in NFL history. He finished 2015 with the highest passer rating in the league and was second in completion percentage at 68.1 percent. Wilson had the best season of any Seahawks QB in franchise history by yards and touchdowns. Wilson and Seattle also cherish the role of the underdog. As the starter for the Seahawks, Russell Wilson is 11-2-1 ATS as an underdog and 8-7 SU. Russell also owns a 4-1 SU record against the Carolina Panthers and has never lost a game at Carolina. If you get points with Seattle, in any situation, you take them.
WHY THE PANTHERS WILL COVER
Bill Voth is the founder of Black & Blue Review. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @BlackBlueReview.
The soon-to-be-crowned MVP used to struggle late against the Seahawks. That changed in October. Newton improved his 0-4 record against Seattle with two 80-yard fourth-quarter drives. That win proved the Seahawks are no longer a nemesis for Newton or the Panthers.
The Seahawks haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since November of 2014, so it’s unlikely Stewart will have a huge game. But he should be plenty effective after four full weeks of rest. The Panthers held him out once he suffered a foot sprain in Week 14 and Stewart on fresh legs is a big advantage.
As he proved late against Minnesota, Russell Wilson is a magician. But the Panthers have a guy who can take away some of Wilson’s powers. Carolina won’t use a spy on him, they’ll just trust that Kuechly can react fast enough to minimize Wilson’s gains on the ground.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (-7.5, 40.5)
WHY THE STEELERS WILL COVER
Jeff Hartman is the editor of Behind the Steel Curtain. You can follow them on Facebook and on Twitter @btsteelcurtain.
Big Ben’s injury will require them to stay balanced on offense
If the Steelers want to win they have to make things easier on their injured quarterback, and a running game is the best medicine. The Broncos will likely crowd the box to try and stop the Steelers’ running attack and force an injured Roethlisberger to try and beat them with a bum shoulder. Keep the Broncos defense honest by getting the running game going early.
Big Ben returns in a big game
The Pittsburgh Steelers will need Roethlisberger on the field, and he will deliver in a big way. His injured shoulder will simply add to the lore of his legend as he slings the ball around in the altitude to help the Steelers move to the AFC Championship game. The offensive line will have to protect him well, and this is ridiculously important as you don’t want Roethlisberger taking another shot to his shoulder which could knock him out of the game, or even the playoffs. If they can do that, look for Big Game Big Ben to arrive in Denver.
Peyton Manning isn’t Peyton Manning anymore
The Steelers defense will try to get Manning off his spot, and force the 40-year-old quarterback to move before throwing the football. The Steelers were a Top 5 team in sacks in the regular season, and if Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward can get pressure from in interior and push Manning of his launching point, the team will have opportunities to take the ball away. Winning the turnover battle will likely win you the game in the postseason.
WHY THE BRONCOS WILL COVER
Kaptain Kirk writes for Bronco Planet. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @broncoplanet and @Kaptain_Kirk62.
Ben Roethlisberger summed up the last meeting like this, “We got lucky last time. We were at home…they had injuries…[It’s] different on [the] road.”
The Broncos were missing three starters (Manning, Ward and Stewart), three of their four top Safeties (Bolden) along with their punt returner. This time around, the Steelers are down three starters in Antonio Brown, DeAngelo Williams and if he’s not sandbagging, Big Ben. Roethlisberger is the toughest QB that I’ve seen, but he won’t be healthy enough for a healthy No. 1 defense in the confines of Sports Authority.
The Broncos are still hot about Cody Wallace’s late head shot on David Bruton in the previous game. Wallace was fined 40 percent of his game check, but wasn’t suspended for the defenseless hit. A victory for Denver would be revenge enough. Antonio Brown, who torched Chris Harris Jr. 16 times for 189 yards and two touchdowns won’t be playing on Sunday, though Harris Jr. would welcome a rematch between two of the best in the league. That alone would be worth the price of admission.
Unlike the last meeting in Week 15, this time it will be Peyton Manning starting, while Landry Jones should end up playing for the Steelers. This sets up another chapter towards a storybook ending to a stellar career for Manning. The tale nearly writes itself. The Steelers are one of three teams in the way of Peyton riding off into the sunset with a second Lombardi Trophy like his boss John Elway.