2016 NFL Divisional Previews and Picks for Sunday, January 17

The final two divisional games will be played on Sunday, January 17, with the NFC offering the Seattle Seahawks (10-6) at the Carolina Panthers (15-1) and the AFC the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) at the Denver Broncos (12-4). In the first contest, which kicks off at 1:05 pm, the Panthers are favored by anywhere from one to three points and the over/under is 44.0. The spread is small in this one and signals a decent amount of doubt about Carolina.

In the second game, which will start at 4:40 pm, Denver is the favorite at -9.0. The over/under is just 39.5 points due to the fact that both Pittsburgh and the Broncos bring tough defenses to the field. The Steelers are very beat up from their wild card game last week where they managed to sneak by the Cincinnati Bengals. There are questions concerning some key players, including QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB DeAngelo Williams.

Seattle at Carolina

When the Seahawks and Panthers met this past October the score was 27-23 in favor of Carolina. It was a close game, but, as has been the case in just about every contest this season, Carolina figured out a way to win.

The Panthers are a scoring machine, averaging 31.3 PPG. The Seahawks can put points on the board too, as they are putting up on average 26.4 PPG. Seattle holds an edge on defense, as they have allowed 17.3 PPG while their opponents have given up 19.3 PPG. The Panthers hold the edge when it comes to PF/PA.

This game comes down to a few key factors. First are the defenses of each team. Although both a very good, Carolina’s overall stats offer them an edge. They lead in sacks 44 to 37, interceptions 24-14, and forced fumbles 24- 20. These disparities, especially in terms of interceptions, elevate this Panther D above the Seahawks defense.

The other major factor on this game will be each team’s quarterback. The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson is a more accurate passer than the Panthers’ Cam Newton. Wilson’s pass completion percentage is much higher than his opponents. But Newton brings a variable to the field that Wilson does not, and that is his ability to make things happen on the ground. Newton is a solid runner. As an example, while Wilson has made one touchdown rushing, Newton has 10. Newton is a big time playmaker who can turn broken plays into major gains.

We like the Panthers at -1.0, as well as the over at 44.0. Final score has Carolina with 27 and Seattle with 21.

Pittsburgh at Denver

The Pittsburgh and Denver contest wraps up the postseason divisional play for the NFL. These two teams have both been defined by inconsistency. Pittsburgh had a tough start to their season, staying around .500 for quite some time. They did make a strong showing as the season came to a close, going four and one over their final five games. Denver’s season played out in an opposite manner, as the Broncos won their first season with results related to their strong defensive play. Then they had a tough time, as they lost four of their last nine games.

As it is with the NFC contest on Sunday, the outcome of this game will be determined to a large part on how well the defenses of these two clubs play. The Broncos D is very intimidating, as they have made 52 sacks, caused 25 forced fumbles, and recovered 13 of those fumbles. Denver also has 14 interceptions.

They’ve seen exceptional play from line backer Von Miller (11 Sacks, 4 FF, 3 Rec). Also CB Aqib Talib (3 INTs, 13 PD, 2 TDs), who leads the club in picks, has been an important factor on defense. Linebacker Shaquil Barrett is key having made 5.5 sacks, caused five forced fumbles, and made two recoveries.

However, Pittsburgh’s also has an accomplished D. They’ve made 48 sacks, 17 interceptions, and 18 forced fumbles. Plus, of those 18 fumbles forced, the Steelers have recovered 13. That’s a 67% recovery rate to Denver’s 52%. That can be a major factor on Sunday.

A big question for both of these clubs has to do with who will be the quarterback.  For Denver, Manning has been unpredictable and often ineffective. However, there have been times this season when he’s made the play that made the difference in the game. Manning’s replacement, Brock Osweiler, has put up some good numbers but can be inconstant and makes mistakes. Whichever QB starts, there’s certainly the chance that we might see the other come into the game if things go south.

For Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger can be key. Although backup Landry Jones can certainly get the job done if need be and this week he’s been taking extra reps. A major factor will be the absence of Steeler receiver Antonio Brown. Brown will not play due to having sustained a concussion in the game against Cincinnati. Still, Pittsburgh has some fine pass catchers. Also, their running game is firmly anchored by backup Le’Veon Bell, who took on the rushing chores with DeAngelo Williams out. News is that Williams may be back in the lineup this week, giving Pittsburgh some powerful choices when it comes to the ground attack.

Despite all of the injuries and question marks, go with Pittsburgh at +9.0. Their defense should be able to contain Denver’s pass attack, while Roethlisberger, or his substitute Landry Jones, will get some points on the board. This pick is ATS. The over/under is low at 39.5. Go with the over. Both teams should be good for a minimum of 20 points.