NFL Divisional Round Preview: Seahawks vs. Panthers and Steelers vs. Broncos

And then there were eight. The first round of NFL playoff action has come and gone complete with some thrilling games ripe with emotion, and we’re now one step closer to Super Bowl 50.

Following yesterday’s thrilling divisional action, we’re taking a look at Sunday’s doubleheader pitting the Seattle Seahawks vs. Carolina Panthers (1:05pm, FOX) and the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos (4:40pm, CBS). Both games feature rematches from the regular season with different circumstances that should make these match-ups intriguing and thrilling from start to finish.

Here’s a preview and our picks for today’s divisional playoff action:

Seattle Seahawks vs. Carolina Panthers

Sunday, 1:05pm, FOX

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Last year when the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers met in this exact same spot, the Seahawks ousted the Panthers from the playoffs en route to the Super Bowl. But the much-improved Panthers are determined to rewrite that narrative when the two teams face off for a chance to go to the NFC Championship next week.

Following a slow start this season, the Seahawks have turned it up at the right time as they rode a wave of confidence into the playoffs. The Panthers, on the other hand, have been proving all season why they’re the team to beat. So when these two teams meet, expect an emotional, action-packed game between two of the NFL’s best.

Why Seattle Will Win

The Seahawks have been one of the hottest teams heading into the postseason riding the arm and legs of Russell Wilson in what has become a new-look Seahawks offense that boasts a ton of confidence. While they narrowly escaped the Vikings last week in a frigid nail-biter, the Seahawks are still a powerhouse when it comes to these all-important games. The offense is riding high, and the defense is doing what it does best as it once again ranks as the league’s best. Seattle has won five straight on the road and can make it six if they find a way to limit Cam Newton and a potent Panthers offense.

Why Carolina Will Win

The Panthers have easily been the most consistently dominant team in the NFC, if not the NFL, throughout this season. The offense is a force to be reckoned with behind Cam Newton and a potent offensive attack with Newton’s top target Greg Olsen. The defense continues to be one of the league’s best, including boasting the fourth best run defense limiting opponents to 88.4 yards per game. As long as Carolina keeps playing their style of ball then there’s no reason why the league’s best team shouldn’t advance to the conference final.

Alyssa’s Pick: Carolina 24, Seattle 20

Just like these two team’s previous match-up this season, expect this game to be a close one. But ultimately Cam Newton will be the game changer that gives the edge to Carolina.

Lizzie’s Pick: Carolina 21, Seattle 17

Seattle is lucky to have made it this far, and they know it. The conditions in Carolina will be much more favorable than they were in Minnesota, but it’s been a while since Seattle has looked truly scary. Still, with very good defenses on both sides, this feels like one that’s too close to call. Until you factor in Cam Newton. That should be enough to give the home team the advantage.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos

Sunday, 4:40pm, FOX

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Following last week’s crazy wild card win over the Bengals, the Steelers are limping into the divisional round of the playoffs without two, possibly three, of their most potent weapons in Antonio Brown, DeAngelo Williams, and a limited Ben Roethlisberger.

The Broncos have had a week of rest and a wave of confidence as future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning makes his first start since Week 10 after leading his team to victory in the regular season finale. The Broncos are a lot healthier since that Dec. 20 loss to the Steelers while Pittsburgh now finds themselves in that position. My how the tables have turned. But anytime you have two rough and tough teams like this going head-to-head for the opportunity to go to the AFC championship you know this game is going to be one-to-watch.

Why Pittsburgh Will Win

To be honest, things look pretty bleak for the Steelers. Two of their top playmakers — Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams — are sidelined and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be, at best, limited in his play. So how does Pittsburgh stand a chance against Denver? The Steelers defense will need to be more than at their best when facing a rejuvenated Broncos offense with returning Peyton Manning and weapons Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. If the Steelers have any chance of winning, an ailing Roethlisberger will need to be at his best along with a strong performance from the defense.

Why Denver Will Win

When the Broncos last faced the Steelers earlier this season — a 34-37 loss — they were without quarterback Peyton Manning and safeties T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart and Omar Bolden. But this time the Steelers will be facing a Manning-led offense and a much healthier secondary — and without Antonio Brown and a limited Ben Roethlisberger. It doesn’t feel like Denver needs to do anything spectacular to win this one. As long as the Broncos protect the football and manage effective scoring drives and employ that much healthier secondary, Denver should emerge victorious.

Alyssa’s Pick: Denver 30, Pittsburgh 17

While Pittsburgh was able to conquer the Denver defense in their first meeting, these are two different teams meeting in this divisional round of the playoffs. Denver is entering the playoffs with confidence following Peyton Manning’s return, and Pittsburgh is ailing without Antonio Brown, DeAngelo Williams, and a less-than-limited Ben Roethlisberger. One has to wonder how Denver doesn’t win this game in convincing fashion.

Lizzie’s Pick: Denver 34, Pittsburgh 20

There’s only two ways for Denver’s season to end. Glory or bust. And if Peyton Manning is really healthy, then my money’s on glory. But even if he isn’t, Big Ben is out, Antonio Brown is out, and Pittsburgh only won last time they faced Denver because the Broncos self-destructed. Don’t count on them doing that again.



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