Road teams were a perfect 4-0 during the NFL’s Wild Card Weekend but don’t expect that trend to continue into the Divisional Round. The four No. 1 and No. 2 seeds return from their bye weeks and all four are set as betting favorites at the sportsbooks as they look to advance to the conference championships.
The first matchup we’ll see this weekend is the New England Patriots hosting the Kansas City Chiefs. The health of a number of wide receivers – on both sides – will be one of the key storylines as we approach Saturday.
The Patriots opened as a five-point favorite but they’ll need Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola fit and back in the lineup. The Patriots started the season 10-0 but ended up dropping four of their last six games as two of Tom Brady’s key inside weapons were banged up.
On the other side, the Chiefs are hoping that Jeremy Maclin has a miraculous recovery from his high-ankle sprain. He’s Alex Smith’s top receiver with 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns. His 87 receptions were seventh-most in the AFC. The Chiefs will be much easier to slow down without their top target.
In the late game on Saturday, we’ll see a rematch of a Week 16 matchup between Green Bay and Arizona. The Packers were throttled 38-8 on that Sunday while Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times. Green Bay’s offense has been a bit of an enigma this season but they appeared to find some rhythm against Washington while scoring 35 points – their most since Week 3. Arizona has opened as a 7-point favorite as the experts expect this to be the end of the line for the Packers.
On Sunday, we’ll start things off with another rematch as the Seattle Seahawks visit the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers went to Seattle in Week 6 and left with a 27-23 win. However, the Seahawks have been a different team since. The Seahawks have won nine of their last 11 games, including last Sunday at Minnesota.
The key to this contest figures to be the matchup between the Panthers’ effective running game and the Seahawks’ No. 1 rush defense. The Seahawks allowed just 81.5 rushing yards per game this season but gave up 135 yards and three rushing touchdowns to Carolina in Week 6. The Panthers are sitting as a short three-point betting favorite.
The weekend winds down with the Pittsburgh Steelers visiting the Denver Broncos for their second meeting of the season. The Steelers hosted and won the first showdown 34-27 but they’ll be hard-pressed to put up similar offensive numbers this week.
Running back Le’Veon Bell is out and backup DeAngelo Williams will start the week as a question mark for Pittsburgh. As will Antonio Brown, who is in the league’s concussion protocol; Brown had 16 catches for 189 yards and two TDs in the first meeting. However, the biggest concern could be Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has a shoulder injury. He’s expected to play but we don’t know how close (or far) he is from full health. These injuries loom large, which is why the Broncos are sitting as a 6.5-point odds favorite.