Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 9, 2015 at 7:00 AM
On paper, the Carolina Panthers look to be completely outmatched in Saturday Night’s NFL Divisional Round matchup against the #1 seed Seattle Seahawks. And, it’s not very hard at all to imagine that it’s going to look that way on the field as well. The legal betting markets have made Carolina the biggest underdog of the week (by a lot) in the game with the lowest Over/Under of the week (by a lot). The consensus opinion is that…the Panthers won’t be able to score.
They haven’t been driving the field for points all season! This is an offense that does a good job of cashing in cheap points from field position set up by their defense or special teams (you saw that again last week vs. Arizona). But, if they have to march down field by moving the chains…it just doesn’t happen very often.
Even during Carolina’s win streak…victory was more about cheap points than real offense.
*Carolina beat Tampa Bay 19-17 in a game with few cheap points
*Carolina beat Cleveland 17-13 in a game with few cheap points
*Carolina beat Atlanta 34-3, but had two non-offensive TDs
*Carolina beat Arizona 27-16 with no long scoring drives
Now…the Panthers did have a legitimately big offensive day against the horrible defense of the New Orleans Saints. They won’t be playing that porous, non-tackling unit that inexplicably still hasn’t fired its defensive coordinator. They’ll be facing the best defense in the league…one that’s significantly better than the Tampa Bay and Cleveland units that just held Carolina in check.
Do the Panthers have any hopes of being competitive? Let’s dig into JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats for more guidance.
Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
Carolina: 7-8-1 (#22 schedule in USA Today)
Seattle: 12-4 (#12 schedule in USA Today)
You can see right there why Seattle is a big favorite. They went 12-4 against an above average schedule. Carolina couldn’t muster a winning record against a below average slate. Though, we should point out that the Panthers have been in better form “lately” than those full season numbers would suggest. Might be better to think of them as a 9-7 type team, or maybe even a defensive-minded 10-6 team…matched up against a 12-4 powerhouse.
Carolina: 5.2 on offense, 5.4 on defense
Seattle: 5.9 on offense, 4.6 on defense
Very few defenses are allowing 5.2 YPP or better this year, so facing Carolina makes EVERYONE seem like they have a great defense. Seattle doesn’t need the help! Big edges on both sides of the ball to the heavily favored hosts. That’s a differential of +1.3 to -0.2 against the superior schedule. And, regarding our main question of the day…Carolina may have trouble cracking even 4.0 YPP on offense because they’ve struggled vs. a below average slate…and are now facing one of the best defenses ever!
Carolina has taken advantage of opponent miscues in recent weeks. You can see that’s less likely to happen against a Seattle team that still thrives in the area of risk/reward. This isn’t last year’s Seattle team by any means, as defensive takeaways are way down. But, it’s not a mistake-prone team that’s likely to self-destruct in a home playoff game.
Carolina: 8-8 ATS
Seattle: 9-6-1 ATS
Wow…even after a sluggish start, Seattle managed a 60% cover performance against the inflated lines that defending champions are always dealing with. Carolina at least managed 50/50. But, if the market has been in synch…and the market sees them as a huge underdog…then Carolina really is the much inferior side here.
Current Line: Seattle by 11, total of 39.5
So far, the only hope for Carolina to stay close would seem to come from “non-paper” issues. If these teams play to norms, Seattle shuts them down…names the score…then advances to next week’s championship round. But, if Seattle starts thinking too early about repeating as champs…and doesn’t bring peak intensity and focus Saturday night…then “paper” is irrelevant and the Panthers could surprise. Carolina’s defense is very good. They’ve been forcing turnovers lately in a way that could line up very nicely against a “flat” opponent that didn’t prepare hard enough.
All told, Seattle’s mindset is probably the deciding factor for picking Saturday night’s winner. If they show up…they could coast to a 20-6 type win, or soar to a 34-13 laugher. If the Seahawks come in flat, then we’re looking at another 16-13 type grinder that both of these teams have a tendency to settle into when they get conservative.
JIM HURLEY has been in constant contact with his sources on site and across the league so he can make an accurate determination of Seattle’s intensity. What he hears will determine what you get!
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We’re halfway through our previews for this week’s NFL Playoff action. We’ll cover Sunday’s games over the next two days…then that college football thriller…
Saturday: Early Playoff Look…Dallas at Green Bay Sunday on FOX
Sunday: NFL Preview…Indianapolis at Denver on CBS
Monday: College Football Championship Preview…Oregon vs. Ohio State
Months of BIG, JUICY WINNERS have all led to this…one of the most exciting weekends of postseason football EVER! Link up with the biggest name in handicapping EVER! Don’t make a move until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!
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