Free NFL Picks: Back Panthers To Win & Cover vs. Seahawks

Chris Andrews

Friday, January 15, 2016 1:45 AM GMT

The Seahawks' string of consecutive Super Bowl runs ends in Carolina this week. Find out why we like the Panthers with our NFL picks in the Divisional Playoffs.

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NFL Pick: Panthers -1 
Best Line Offered: at BetOnline

 

There are lots of wiseguys on the Seahawks this week. One of the common themes I am hearing is the Seahawks strength schedule is so much better than that of the Panthers.

That might be true, but it doesn’t necessarily mean one team has an advantage over the other.

The Panthers did wind up with an unusually soft schedule. Their own division, the NFC South was particularly bad this season. Their NFC opponents were drawn from the NFC East, another notoriously weak division. Their out of conference matchup featured the AFC South. Bad again.

The thing is the Panthers beat them all, except for a late season tumble to the Falcons.

The Seahawks did face a tougher schedule. You can’t really argue the point. However, lets look at the teams they beat.

The Bears, Lions, 49ers, Cowboys, 49ers again, Steelers, Vikings, Ravens, Browns, and Cardinals.

They beat three winning teams all year.

The Steelers were beaten in a great game, 39-30. That was good. The Vikings were beaten 38-7. A very good game by the Seahawks. Kudos to them.

They beat the Cardinals in the season finale, when almost anything can happen. They had also fallen to the Cardinals earlier in the season. A good win, no doubt. But let’s not take too much from that.

The Panthers beat three winning teams, also. The Texans, Washington, and the Seahawks. That’s right. The Seahawks.

A lot has changed for both teams since the Panthers went into Seattle and won outright as a 7-point underdog on the NFL odds board. The Seahawks were good and we knew it. The Panthers were still proving themselves. And they have.

While the schedule strength leans to the Seahawks, there are other factors that point to the Panthers.

The Panthers have the biggest scoring differential in the league. They also score more points per play that anyone else. The have the most efficient yards per point ratio of any team.

Those stats can be just noise when teams line up to play, and I admit that. But here is what is far more significant to me.

The Seahawks have been a running team for the past few seasons as they have made their two trips to the Super Bowl, winning once.

This season Marshawn Lynch is not the running back he has been the past few seasons. He has missed the past few games, but even at the beginning of the season, it was no longer ‘Beast-mode’ Marshawn. He lost a lot and it happened quickly. That’s a pattern we see all too often from running backs in the NFL.

Fortunately for the Seahawks, undrafted and unknown Thomas Rawls came in and ran the ball as effectively as almost anyone in the NFL before falling to a season ending injury.

The Seahawks went back to a former draftee of theirs, Christine Michael. Michael is more of a finesse back than either Lynch or Rawls, but sometimes you have to take what you can get.

The result is the Seahawks have become Russell Wilson’s team. Nothing really wrong with that, the guy has been fantastic. But the team has changed.

Now the Seahawks go into Carolina to play one of the top defenses in the league. A lot will rest on Wilson’s shoulders.

The Panthers have the stingiest pass defense in the NFL by passer rating and second best by yards per attempt. If the Seahawks are looking for help from the running game, they might be in some trouble. The Panthers allow only 88 yards a game on the ground.

Speaking of the running game, in 5 of the 6 Seahawks losses they allowed over 100 yards rushing. They allowed the most to the Panthers, who gained 135 on them back in October. The Panthers are averaging over 142 yards per game and if they can get anywhere near that number again, the Seahawks will be be in big trouble once more.

This should be the top game of the weekend. While the Seahawks have had a great run over the past couple seasons it will end here. Too many advantages going the Panthers way as we place our NFL picks, including the home field advantage.