NFC Divisional Round: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers Picks, Preview, Predictions

Russell WilsonFor the second straight season, the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks will meet in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs (1.05pm ET Sunday on FOX).

This time however, it will be Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium and not Seattle’s CenturyLink Field that plays host to the clash, a fact that could make the difference. So here is our Seattle Seahawks vs Carolina Panthers preview and predictions, culminating in suggested betting picks for this vital NFL game.

A 2-4 record after their first six, Seattle’s playoff hopes seemed bleak, especially with the Cardinals surging in the West and threatening to take back the division for the first time since 2009. Seattle didn’t manage to win the division however following the Carolina loss, the team dropped just two more and finished the year on an 8-2 run, one much more indicative of the Seahawks’ team we’ve become accustomed to over the years.

Meanwhile the Panthers, who improbably won the NFC South last year with a 7-8-1 record, came back this year with a vengeance. Carolina held the title of being the NFL’s lone undefeated team, a distinction that was theirs all the way until week 17 of the 2015-16 season. And while the Panthers’ resume is marred by the fact that six of their games were played against much-maligned NFC South opponents as well as another four against the NFC East, one of the worst divisions in football, Carolina did manage to get two marquee wins against Green Bay and Seattle.

The Real MVP: Cam Newton vs Russell Wilson

One of the most exciting things about this match-up Sunday is that it will be contested between two of the league’s hot young quarterbacks, both of whom are very much at the top of the running for the 2015-16 season’s MVP award.

The tale of the tape goes like this:

  • Cam Newton: 3,837 passing yards (+636 rushing), 59.8 CMP%, 35 TD (+10 rushing), 10 INT, 99.4 RAT
  • Russell Wilson (pictured): 4,024 passing yards (+553 rushing), 68.1 CMP%, 34 TD (+one rushing), 8 INT, 110.1 RAT

Newton and Wilson, 26 and 27 years old respectively, finished among the top six in passing touchdowns. As far as total touchdowns, Newton led the league with 45. Wilson meanwhile led the NFL in rating, while Newton finished eighth in the same category.

As good as this duo has been however it should be of note that neither Carolina nor Seattle led a top 15 passing offense. Seattle finished ranked 20th and Carolina was 24th. However, in part aided by the rushing ability of their signal callers, both Carolina and Seattle finished in the top three in rushing yards, with Carolina second with 2,282 and Seattle just behind them with 2,268. Additionally, Carolina tied with Kansas City and Buffalo to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 19, 10 of which as I mentioned above, courtesy of Newton.

Both Newton and Wilson have been MVP caliber and have truly been difference makers.

Wilson was able to rebound from a tough start and lead Seattle to the playoffs despite the team being without top tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Marshawn Lynch, for much of the season. Some of Wilson’s best games came late in the year, in which he became the first ever QB in NFL history to throw three touchdowns and zero interceptions in five consecutive games. Additionally, Wilson’s passing yards topped 4,000 for the first time in Seahawks history. It was a mark that bested his previous career high by over 500 yards.

Newton meanwhile, the former first overall pick, took the year to silence his critics, doing so in decisive fashion. In his fifth season, Newton put up numbers comparable to what he did in his rookie of the year winning 2011 campaign and bested his career high in total touchdowns by ten. He also did so without some of his top weapons, losing Kelvin Benjamin before the season even began.

The most impressive thing about what Wilson and Newton were able to do is exactly what makes quarterbacks so valuable.

Under Newton, nine-year veteran receiver Ted Ginn Jr, had his best season since 2008. He was targeted a career high 96 times and doubled his previous career high of five touchdowns. In fact, prior to this year, Ginn had just 11 total touchdowns. He almost doubled that this season alone with 10.

For Wilson, it was fifth year receiver Doug Baldwin that had the career year. Having always been with Wilson and Seattle, Baldwin was never the top option until this year. In the role however, he exceled, totaling 1,069 receiving yards, 78 receptions and 14 touchdowns to lead all NFL receivers. Again, just like Ginn, he almost doubled his previous career total of 15 in just this one season.

Our Preview’s Seattle Seahawks vs Carolina Panthers Betting Picks

This preview has talked about the quarterbacks and really, they are the story of the game. But, there are some other important numbers to consider before we get to the betting picks predictions.

The Seahawks are the NFL’s best rushing defense, second best passing defense and second best overall defense to go along with their third best rushing offense. They are one of the NFL’s most balanced teams in all facets of the game and have been as hot as anyone as of late. Their first round playoff match-up against the Vikings almost had them on the losing end but the weather certainly played a huge role in that game. There is no reason to think Seattle won’t return to form against a Panthers team that the Seahawks came close to giving their first loss.

The Panthers ranked 11th in passing defense, fourth in rushing defense and sixth in overall defense to go with their own second best rushing offense and top mark of 31.3 points per game (Seattle is tied for fourth). Just like Seattle, Carolina is quite balanced and also like Seattle, they are among the hotter teams entering the postseason. They do have the factor of the layoff against them, which seems to affect teams differently, and the added element of Lynch being back for the Seahawks, but the Panthers are the home team, so they maintain some of their advantage there.

The sportsbooks’ spread makes Carolina between a 1.5pt and 3pts favorite depending on the bookie and the odds. They will be given their biggest test of the year in this match-up. For my betting pick, my money is with the Seahawks, both getting the win and topping the spread. I didn’t focus much on Lynch’s return but if he plays as is expected, he’s the X-factor that takes Seattle over the top and returns them to the NFC Championship for an incredible third year in a row.

  • You can bet the Seahawks +1.5pts with BetOnline @ -110 odds. However we advise playing safer with the spread and backing Seattle +3pts @ -125 betting odds with Bovada Sportsbook. It is +2pts @ -110 with 5Dimes.
  • As for the total points scored in the game, we’re looking at two top defenses dealing with two top scoring offenses. So you might expect the score to fall somewhere in between. But this preview’s pick is to take the over 44pts @ best odds of -105 with BetOnline. The same bet is -110 with 5Dimes and -115 with Bovada.