Here are my predictions for the second round of the playoffs.
SEATTLE (6) VS CAROLINA (1)
This game could come down to the wire. In their regular season meeting, the Panthers stormed back late and shocked the Seahawks — who at the time was in a mid-season funk. The two teams are playing real well right now and could possibly produce an instant classic.
Russell Wilson has played like a second-half MVP and the passing game, especially with Doug Baldwin has looked fantastic. This is a Seahawks team without Jimmy Graham and with Marshawn Lynch banged up. Yet the offense is playing well enough while the defense remains strong.
That will be a challenge as Cam Newton is such a dangerous quarterback and has made his “lack of quality receivers” into dangerous threats. Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn will be key in helping spread the field as Greg Olsen remains as the focal point of the passing game. Look out for Jonathan Stewart to be the tone-setter.
This could be another high-scoring game and the Panthers at home is dangerous. They get the edge in the game.
PANTHERS WIN 37-31
PITTSBURGH (6) VS DENVER (1)
Peyton Manning is back. Manning will get the start after missing several weeks with an injury. How will the offense operate with Manning back? The Broncos under Brock Osweiler was shut out for the second half of their Week 15 loss to the Steelers. If Manning is healthy, expect once again to see the running game take control of the offense early on. Emmanuel Sanders needs to have a big game against his former team to get this Broncos offense going.
Defensively, the Broncos will have to add pressure to a banged up Ben Roethlisberger. If Big Ben is healthy, he will be on the lookout to get his offense rolling and Martavis Bryant might have an even bigger game. The absence of Antonio Brown could spell the difference for the Steelers in the game. With DeAngelo Williams also out, the running game could be in deep trouble.
This game comes down to execution and health. The Broncos are rested and are in better shape to win the game. But if the Steelers are healthy, they are very dangerous. I’m rolling with a less banged up Broncos.
BRONCOS WIN 27-20