NFL Playoff Bracket 2016: Odds, Predictions for AFC and NFC Divisional Round

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2016

Dec 27, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) reacts against the Green Bay Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Intriguing Super Bowl contenders may have emerged from Wild Card Weekend, but now the divisional round means it's time for the favorites to make their statements. 

According to Odds Shark, four of the five Super Bowl favorites weren't in action last weekend. Now, they'll each have an opportunity to show their might as they welcome wild-card winners. 

Here's a look at the complete slate of games along with the latest odds from Odds Shark and a prediction for each. 

NFL Divisional-Round Odds
Matchup (Spread)ATS Pick
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots (-5)Chiefs
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals (-7)Cardinals
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers (-2.5)Panthers
Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (-7)Broncos
Odds Shark

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots

The Kansas City Chiefs were by far the most dominant team in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, it's not that hard to look dominant when you're going against Brian Hoyer. 

The Chiefs' dominant defense picked off the Houston Texans quarterback four times in a 30-0 victory. 

It would be easy to discredit their dominance based on the opposition if it didn't align with just how well the Chiefs have been playing up to this point. The win was their 11th in a row, making them the hottest team in the NFL

The advanced metrics back up the Chiefs as a legitimate contender as well. Football Outsiders' numbers project the Chiefs as the second most likely team to win the Super Bowl, only trailing the Seattle Seahawks. 

However, those numbers can't account for a key injury. According to NFL.com, star receiver Jeremy Maclin has been held out of practice due to a high ankle sprain. 

That's a huge blow for quarterback Alex Smith. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Maclin has more receiving yards with Smith than any receiver has ever had in a season with the Chiefs quarterback. 

Without Maclin at 100 percent, the Chiefs offense should have a difficult time matching the Patriots score for score in a competitive game. 

Prediction: Patriots 24, Chiefs 20

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals

Jan 3, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) is stopped by Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker K.J. Wright (50) during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The APB put out for the Green Bay Packers' offense was temporarily lifted against the Washington Redskins. After Aaron Rodgers and Co. put up eight and 13 points against the Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings, respectively, the offense exploded for 35 points against the Redskins. 

Unfortunately for the Packers, they aren't playing the Redskins this week. In their stead will be a vicious Cardinals defense that has consistently been one of the best in the nation this year, holding teams to just 19.6 points per game. 

Even if the Packers can find ways to score against the Cardinal defense, keeping up with the offense will be another challenge altogether. Carson Palmer is having the best season of his career. Led by his 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns, Arizona is No. 2 in scoring offense.

Obviously, the Packers are just one season removed from an NFC Championship Game appearance, so they could simply be rounding into postseason shape, but their body of work this season makes them much less trustworthy than the Cardinals. 

Prediction: Cardinals 31, Packers 21

Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers

Nov 8, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (98) celebrates with defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) after a turnover in the first half against the Green Bay Packers at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers defeated t
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

This is easily the game of the week. 

Cam Newton and the seemingly unstoppable Panthers offense is on a collision course with the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense. Or, if you're a numbers person, it's the NFL team with the best record against the No. 1 team in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. 

It's a rematch of a game that served as Carolina's coming-out party in Week 6 when the Panthers earned a 27-23 win over Seattle on the road. 

While plenty of attention leading up to this matchup has been focused on Russell Wilson and Cam Newton, matchups like this come down to the trenches. As Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com noted, it was Carolina's horses up front that won that battle the first time around:

I thought one of the keys to the first matchup in Week 6 was that the Panthers dominated up front against the Seahawks’ offensive line. If Lynch can’t go, it’ll be Christine Michael carrying the load once again. He ran 21 times for 70 yards in the wild-card win against the Vikings. So no, I don’t have a lot of confidence that the Seahawks will be able to run the ball effectively in this one. In the first game, they had some success with the read-option and might need to call on that quite a bit this time around, too.

Russell Wilson's production wasn't great with what Christine Michael was able to provide in the run game last week. He went 13-of-26 for 142 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the win. However, he was able to lead the last-minute drive to win the game. 

The offense will need to be in rhythm much sooner if the Seahawks want to keep up with the Panthers. That's something they might not be able to do even with Marshawn Lynch looking good in practice this week, according to the Seahawks' official site

Prediction: Panthers 24, Seahawks 17

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos

As much as Jeremy Maclin means to the Kansas City Chiefs, there might not be a receiver that means more to his team than Antonio Brown

That's terrible news for Terrible Towel wavers. It "isn't looking good" for Brown to play in the game against the Broncos, per ESPN's Bob Holtzman.

Brown is in concussion protocol after taking a hit from Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict last week. With his status questionable, head coach Mike Tomlin has been forced to think about life without Brown against the Broncos, per Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune. "As I sit here, the thought of working without A.B. is not a pleasant one, but we'll see where it takes us."

"Where it will take them" is likely a place of offensive futility. Brown has accounted for 40.6 percent of Ben Roethlisberger's passing yardage this regular season. With the Broncos laying claim to the No. 1 defense in Football Outsiders' DVOA this season, it's not a good place to be.  

Throw in the fact that Roethlisberger himself is not sure if he'll play thanks to a shoulder injury, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the news is even worse. 

Peyton Manning may be having the worst season of his career with nine touchdowns to 17 interceptions, but this is going to be a defensive game anyway. In an ugly game, it's best to bet on the team with the best defense. 

That's the Broncos.

Prediction: Broncos 20, Steelers 10


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