NFL playoffs 2016 schedule: Top-seeded Panthers and Broncos look to advance

Two matchups of No. 1 vs. No. 6 are much closer games than the seeding would lead you to believe.

The top seeds in each conference got the first week off and didn’t play Saturday, but on Sunday the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will make their postseason debuts against the No. 6 seeds.

Despite going 10-6 in the regular season, the Seattle Seahawks are a trendy pick to win the entire NFC after a strong finish to the season. When the Panthers dealt the Seahawks a loss in Week 6 after overcoming a 23-14 deficit in the final four minutes, it dropped Seattle to 2-4 on the year. Since then the team has won nine of its last 11, including a 10-9 win over the Minnesota Vikings last week to advance.

Like the Seahawks, the Pittsburgh Steelers hit the playoffs on a hot streak to earn a No. 6 seed. They won five of their last six, including a 34-27 win over the Broncos and an 18-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals last week.

The winners on Sunday will advance to the conference championships to face the New England Patriots or the Arizona Cardinals. The Patriots got by the Kansas City Chiefs rather easily. A late score pulled the Chiefs within seven, but by then they had squandered too much time to win. The Cardinals, meanwhile, beat the Green Bay Packers in a game that should go down as an all-time classic.

If Sunday’s games are half as exciting as the late game was Saturday, it’s going to be a great day of football.

Here are the Sunday matchups in the Divisional round and how to watch:

NFC Divisional Round Game 2: Seattle Seahawks vs. Carolina Panthers

When: Sunday, Jan. 17, 1:05 p.m. ET

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

TV: FOX

Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman

Online: FOX Sports Go

The Panthers lost just one game during the 2015 regular season, but they had to survive a few close calls, and one of those came from the Seahawks early in the year. Close games were an Achilles heel for the back-to-back defending NFC champions, but Seattle has seemingly figured that out.

Now the two teams meet again three months later and both are firing on all cylinders. Russell Wilson is playing as well as any quarterback, Marshawn Lynch is back and the Seahawks’ defense is back to its dominant self. But Cam Newton is going to be the NFL’s MVP after leading the Panthers to the most points scored in 2015, and the team had an extra week to get healthy and ready for Sunday.

NFC Divisional Round Game 2: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos

When: Sunday, Jan. 17, 4:40 p.m. ET

Where: Sports Authority Field, Denver, Colo.

TV: CBS

Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

Online: CBSSports.com

While the Seahawks and Panthers are firing on all cylinders, the Steelers and Broncos have seen better days. Denver is in the thick of a quarterback controversy after swapping out Brock Osweiler to reinsert Peyton Manning as starter. Early in the year, Manning struggled with 17 interceptions in nine starts before sitting out with a foot injury, but Osweiler couldn’t grab the job for himself and the veteran took over again in Week 17.

But the Steelers could be the right team for the Broncos to find momentum against, even after Pittsburgh earned a 34-27 win over Denver in Week 15. The Steelers limp into the game without Antonio Brown or DeAngelo Williams, and even though Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play, he’s still listed as questionable. While the team finished with the No. 3 offense despite dealing with significant injuries, the Steelers are as beat up as any playoff team and will have to rely on players like Fitzgerald Toussaint and Martavis Bryant to lead the way against the Broncos’ elite defense.

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