The Carolina Panthers cut through the NFC like a hot knife on their way to a 15-1 record, but with a schedule filled with also-rans and sub-.500 teams, Cam Newton and company won't start turning heads until they can produce in the postseason. Carolina may be the least threatening one-loss squad in NFL history as evidenced by its less-than-stellar futures odds, where the team is ranked third, behind Arizona and New England. Only time will tell if Carolina's 15-1 record was the result of a soft schedule or the rise of a future NFC contender.
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Seattle, on the other hand, dodged a bullet against Minnesota during the wild-card round. However, after last year's brutal Super Bowl defeat at the one-yard line, even the Seahawks deserve a bit of luck. The real question is whether or not the defending NFC champions can rebound from a tough seven-day schedule where they played a defensive-minded playoff game in the cold, traveled back to Seattle and then went straight to Carolina. Either way, bettors will have their plate full with a weekend of NFL action. Let's take a closer look at Sunday's Seattle versus Carolina matchup with predictions and analysis.
No matter how you might view last weekend's playoff win, Seattle was gifted that game on a silver platter. The vaunted Legion of Boom gave up a few huge plays down the stretch to let Minnesota get into a position to kick a chip-shot field goal, and luckily for the Seahawks, they missed. One train of thought is that Seattle will enter Sunday's matchup against Carolina with house money, while another is that the Seahawks are in trouble. However, what most experts should agree on is that Seattle will need to score much more than 10 points against a Carolina team that has put up more than 30 points in six of its last seven matchups.
The last time these two teams meet back in Week 6, Seattle went into the fourth quarter with a 20-14 lead, but Newton hooked up with tight end Greg Olsen for a game-winning touchdown late in the final period. Olsen is expected to play a huge role in the matchup, and Seattle's ability to cover the game-changing tight end might be the difference between winning and losing. The Seahawks defense ranked 26 in the league at covering tight ends during the regular season, so expect Carolina to target Olsen early and often during this game.
Injury wise, neither team is facing any major issues. Marshawn Lynch is listed as probable with a strained abdomen, but the running back did practice this week and will probably end up playing no matter how banged up he may feel. Carolina currently has three players; Fozzy Whittaker, Ted Ginn Jr and Jonathan Stewart; nursing injuries, but all are expected to be available for Sunday's matchup.
Seahawks at Panthers Betting Odds and Trends
Carolina is currently a 2.5- to 3.0-point favorite , depending on the Doc's Sports affiliated web site, and the line will probably hold steady around those numbers until game time. The total opened at 44 across the board and has managed to stay put at each Doc's Sports affiliated site. Seattle ended the regular season with an 8-7-1 ATS record and 7-9 totals mark, while Carolina earned a 11-5 record with a 10-5-1 total mark. Seattle has won two of the last three meetings between the teams, including a 14-point postseason victory during last year's playoffs. Carolina is currently ranked No. 1 in points scored and No. 2 in rushing yards gained, while Seattle is ranked No. 1 in fewest points allowed and No. 2 in fewest rushing yards allowed.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Seahawks at Panthers Predictions
Let's be honest-there is no correct play here. Bettors could make a solid argument for taking either side of the wager, and they would be right. Sometimes matchups have a clear way to bet depending on the spread an overall circumstance, but at -3.0 points, no result in this game would be shocking. A Carolina win would be completely expected, or a dominant Seattle performance and return to NFC title game wouldn't be shocking either.
The Seahawks are a team filled with experience, but they did not look particularly impressive during last week's wild-card round. What we can count on from this matchup is two Top-5 defenses showing up, and if either team struggles on offense expect them to slow the game down and grind things out. The smartest play is to take the "under" and expect a low-scoring game. If you must have a pick, however, take the No. 1 seeded Panthers and give up the three points.
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Read more articles by George Monroy
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