NFL Sunday Playoff Preview: Peyton Manning Returns, Russell Wilson Looks to Upstage Cam Newton

Peyton Manning
The Associated Press

Don’t get caught up in the records, the Seattle Seahawks-Carolina Panthers playoff game could go either way. As for Sunday’s second game, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Denver without star receiver Antonio Brown, starting tailback DeAngelo Williams and with QB Ben Roethlisberger’s throwing shoulder a mess. So, it’s will be difficult for them to win against the Broncos #1-ranked defense.

Let’s take a closer look at these two contests.

Seattle Seahawks (11-6) at Carolina Panthers (15-1), 1:05 p.m. ET on Fox

The Seahawks, and their left tackle Russell Okung, pursue their American Dream of winning another Super Bowl. And the return of star running back Marshawn Lynch, who hasn’t played since Nov. 15 due to a sports hernia that required surgery, should help that American Dream. The Panthers also get help on the injury front with the return of talented runner Jonathan Stewart. A foot injury has kept him out since December 13.

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman knows the 5-10, 235-pound Stewart presents a major challenge.

“He’s been phenomenal this year: breaking tackles, he’s been running strong, running physical, so you have to be aware of tackling him,” Sherman said.

Sherman, and the rest of the Seahawks defense, certainly seem up for this significant road challenge. They allowed only one offensive touchdown in their last six road games.

As for the Panthers defense, their front seven is loaded but they are a little thin at cornerback. No doubt #1 CB Josh Norman is a superb player, but they lost their other starter (Peanut Tillman) and nickel back (Bene Benwikere) to season-ending injuries. It’s had an impact. They gave of a ton of passing yards in three late-season games against the Giants, Saints, and Falcons.

So red-hot Russell Wilson could do a lot of damage.

Just like Panthers’ tight end Greg Olson should do a lot of damage against a Seahawks team struggling covering tight ends. In the Panthers regular-season win over Seattle, Olson grabbed seven balls for 131 yards, including the game-winning touchdown catch late.
Don’t let the disparate team records fool you. This is game is a very even match-up. It’s too close to call.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-6) at Denver Broncos (12-4), 4:40 p.m. ET on CBS

While Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burflict is a villain to many for his hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown’s head, he’s probably very popular in Denver.

Thanks to Burfict, Brown suffered a concussion on the play, and won’t dress against the Broncos. This is a huge loss for the Steelers. Brown caught 136 passes during the regular season, and when the Steelers beat the Broncos in Week 15, Brown caught 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns.

But not only did Burfict knock Brown out of the Broncos game, the Steelers franchise QB, Ben Roethlisberger likely plays as damaged goods, due to a shoulder injury suffered on a Burfict sack. Roethlisberger has a sprained AC joint and ligament damage in his right shoulder. Even if he plays, it’s going to take away from his top-shelf arm strength.

So, if the Broncos win this game, they might want to give Burfict a game ball.

Peyton Manning is back at quarterback for the Broncos, his first start in two months. He was sidelined with a foot injury. It’s unclear what to expect from Manning, who was leading the NFL in interceptions when he left the lineup. His arm strength has clearly deteriorated.

So, look for the Broncos to play very conservatively on offense, with a run-oriented approach complimented by a very conservative passing game, featuring a lot of short-to-intermediate throws.

With the injuries to Brown, Roethlisberger, and DeAngelo Williams, look for the Broncos to win this game, spearheaded by their #1 ranked defense.