The top-seeded Carolina Panthers (15-1) will attempt to defeat the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks (11-6) for the second time this season when they square off in the divisional round of the playoffs on Sunday. The Panthers upset the Seahawks 27-23 as seven-point road underdogs back in Week 6 on a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cam Newton to tight end Greg Olsen with 32 seconds remaining.
Point spread: The Panthers opened as 1.5-point favorites; the total was 43.5 early in the week, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).
NFL pick, via Odds Shark computer: 23.3-20.9 Panthers
Why the Seahawks can cover the spread
If not for Newton and Carolina’s near-perfect regular season, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson may have earned more NFL MVP votes for his career year. Wilson has thrown 25 touchdowns and just two interceptions in the team’s last eight games, including last Sunday’s 10-9 victory against the Minnesota Vikings.
While he struggled at times against Minnesota, he still made some big plays, with a 35-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Tyler Lockett leading to the lone touchdown of the game for the Seahawks.
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch may or may not return for this game after recovering from sports hernia surgery, but Wilson has made sure the offense can thrive without him if needed. Lynch rushed for 54 yards on 17 carries in the first meeting with the Panthers and scored one touchdown, and he will likely not be the difference here even if he does play.
It will be Wilson, who has proved to be an elite postseason performer over the past three years by keeping his team in the game until the end.
Why the Panthers can cover the spread
Carolina has shown no fear this year, which is why the team nearly had the second 16-0 campaign ever. Going into CenturyLink Field and leaving with a victory that was decided in the final minute was no easy feat, and that is just one game that exemplifies the team’s season.
Even the regular-season finale versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that resulted in a 38-10 rout showed how well the Panthers can rebound from a loss and how badly they wanted the top seed in the NFC along with home-field advantage.
Bank of America Stadium could very well be the deciding factor in this matchup, as Carolina was the only team in the league to finish the regular season with an undefeated home record. The Panthers went 5-1 against the spread in their last six home games, with all of the covers decided by eight points or more. Newton had a lot to do with their home success, too, with 20 of his 35 passing touchdowns and six of his 10 running scores happening there.
The Seahawks might be the most dangerous team in the playoffs because of Wilson, but Newton will be the NFL MVP for plenty of reasons. As good as the Seattle defense is, Newton made plays with his arm and his legs in the first game on the road and has performed better at home. Carolina will live up to the No. 1 seed with a win and cover.
The Seahawks are 5-1 straight up in their last six games against the Panthers.
The Panthers are 4-0 ATS in their last four games at home.
The total has gone over in 10 of the Panthers' last 14 games.