The Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks have a lot to live up to after the show the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers put on in Saturday night's playoff action.
The Cardinals survived a remarkable Hail Mary touchdown pass by Aaron Rodgers to win the game 26-20 in overtime.
The Panthers earned the No. 1 seed this year with a remarkable 15-1 season in which they met every serious challenge they faced. They were led by quarterback Cam Newton, who appears to be on track to win the MVP award after a spectacular season that included 35 touchdown passes and 10 rushing touchdowns.
In addition to his numbers, Newton seemed to come through in the clutch nearly every time his team needed him to make a play.
But there will be no give-up coming from the Seahawks. They struggled early in the year, but they surged to a 10-6 record after winning six of their last seven games.
The two-time defending NFC champions turned their season around when quarterback Russell Wilson stepped up and started carrying the Seattle offense. Wilson threw 24 touchdown passes over the last seven games, and he threw just one interception over that span.
The Seahawks will also see the return of running back Marshawn Lynch, who has been battling an abdominal injury that kept him out of nine games during the regular season and last week's Wild Card victory over the Minnesota Vikings. If Lynch can run with authority and get back to a Beast Mode level of production, that will be a big bonus for the Seahawks.
The Panthers are also expecting to get a boost from the return of running back Jonathan Stewart. He ran for 989 yards and six touchdowns this season, and he is returning from a foot injury that kept him out of the last three games.
The Seahawks have a champions' swagger, but the Panthers are playing at home and they should be in an excellent position to knock off Seattle. In addition to playing with more consistency than Seattle this season, the big-play ability of Newton figures to make the difference in this game.
|Sunday 's Divisional Playoff Point Spreads and Selections|
|Game||Date, Time (ET)||TV||Point Spread||Over/Under||Selection|
|Seattle at Carolina||Jan. 17, 105 p.m.||Fox||Carolina (-2)||44||Carolina; Over|
|Pitttsburgh at Denver||Jan. 17, 4:40 p.m.||CBS||Denver (-7.5)||40||Denver*, Under|
|*-Will win game but will not cover point spread.|
|Odds Shark; Silverman selections|
Look for Newton to find wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and tight end Greg Olsen with clutch passes in the fourth quarter as the Panthers pull out a win by three points. The Panthers are 2.5-point favorites, according to Odds Shark, and they should get the cover by the slimmest of margins.
The Denver Broncos appear to have a big advantage over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC divisional playoff game.
In addition to playing at home, they are also the healthier team.
Additionally, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is officially listed as questionable with a shoulder injury. While ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reports he is expected to play, throwing the ball downfield for any medium- or long-range pass is a questionable proposition for the Steelers' quarterback.
Wide receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton have been strong in the secondary role, but it's quite another thing to step up into a leading role against Denver's top-ranked defense.
Moving the ball could be an issue for both teams. Peyton Manning returns to the starting lineup for this game, but his season has been a struggle due to ineffectiveness and injuries. He had a 9-17 TD-interception ratio, and it's going to be a challenge to turn it around here.
The Broncos are the healthier team, and they are playing at home. While they are 7.5-point favorites, it won't be an easy game. However, they should find a way to survive and advance against a worthy but undermanned Steelers team.
DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF FANTASY STANDOUTS
Newton has been a standout all season, and he knows that if his team is going to fulfill all the expectations that have been heaped on them, it starts against the Seahawks. Newton will throw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, and he will also rush for a score.
Olsen may be the best tight end in the league not named Rob Gronkowski. He caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Panthers' Week 6, 27-23 win at Seattle. The Seahawks are usually quite generous with opposing tight ends, and Olsen should catch eight passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Wilson has been coming through for the Seahawks throughout his career, and even if he gets beaten in this game, he is not going to fade away gently. Look for Wilson to throw for 290 yards and two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin is Wilson's top target. He caught 78 passes for 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns this year, and his toughness and determination should allow him to catch seven passes for 90 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers.
The top fantasy running back in Sunday's divisional play will be Denver's C.J. Anderson. While Ronnie Hillman is listed as the No. 1 running back on the depth chart, Anderson is just a tad quicker, and head coach Gary Kubiak is likely to lean on him because of his 4.7 yards per carry average. Look for Anderson to run for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Bryant may not be ready to step in and make as many catches as Brown, but he will be good for at least one big play. Look for Bryant to reel in five passes for 80 yards and one touchdown.