Tag Archives: NFL On Fox

Primetime Predictions

14 Apr
nfl schedule release

The 2016 NFL schedule will be released at 5pm Thursday night

The master schedule for the 2016 NFL season has been finalized. The league will reveal the 256-game slate on Thursday night. For most fans the schedule release is a mundane affirmation that we are one more step closer to football season. For others such as myself, the NFL schedule release is arguably the most exciting day of the offseason because we pin down which weeks the Seahawks will play at home as well as starting to think about booking trips to see the Seattle play on the road. The Seahawks continue to be a Super Bowl contender and they are coming off their fourth straight season in which they made the playoffs. With this resume, we will certainly see our fair share of the primetime spotlight in 2016. I believe the Seahawks will receive four games scheduled in primetime this season. Here are the games I think are primed to be aired under the lights.

Home vs. Carolina Panthers

In 2015 the Panthers came to Seattle and stole a victory in the final minutes. That game was a 1:05pm start on FOX. Carolina enters 2016 as the defending NFC champions and with the Seahawks lackluster slate of home games, this is by far the most appealing game to a national audience. This matchup features the last two teams to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and there is a nice little rivalry brewing between the Panthers and Seahawks. I believe this game is a perfect fit for Sunday Night Football.

Home vs. Los Angeles Rams

Get ready for a “lemon and lime” color rush game if this prediction becomes reality. Over the last few seasons the NFL has reserved the grand majority of Thursday Night Football games for division rivalries. Seattle has only hosted TNF twice since it came into existence in 2006, and most recently in 2011. This season with the Rams having relocated to the west coast, this is the perfect opportunity to feature a fierce up-and-coming rivalry. This game is good for the Thursday Night spotlight for two main reasons. First, the Rams swept the season series with the Seahawks last season, the first time since 2004. The Rams always play Seattle tough and that will only continue to be the case moving forward. Secondly, this matchup gives the NFL another opportunity to feature the Los Angeles market in primetime, something that I believe will be a common occurrence in 2016.

Away at New England Patriots

This seems like a no-brainer doesn’t it? The rematch of Super Bowl XLIX will be one of the most anticipated games of 2016. I imagine NBC and ESPN had a fierce bidding war to obtain the broadcast rights to this game. NBC likely prevailed. I would be stunned if this game is not on Sunday Night Football.

Away at Arizona Cardinals

Much like how the Seattle/San Francisco rivalry was the marquee rivalry in the NFC West from 2012-2014, the Seattle/Arizona rivalry has now topped it. It is certain one of our dates with the Arizona Cardinals will be in primetime. The question is which one? In 2014, our matchup with the Cardinals in Arizona was scheduled for Sunday Night Football. In 2015, the Seahawks/Cardinals game in Seattle earned the Sunday Night spotlight. To continue this alternating pattern, I expect the 2016 matchup in Arizona to earn primetime honors. Sunday Night Football is the likely landing spot but I would not be surprised to see this game go to ESPN and Monday Night Football.

Review: Panthers 31, Seahawks 24

17 Jan
Jonathan Stewart

Photo Credit: NFL.com

There is no doubt the Seattle Seahawks showed a tremendous amount of heart on Sunday. Unfortunately at the end of the day the deficit was too big and time was too little. The 2015 campaign comes to a close as the Carolina Panthers defeat the Seahawks 31-24, eliminating Seattle and advancing to next week’s NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals. The NFC will be represented in the Super Bowl by a team other than the Seahawks for the first time since 2012. For this preview I will break the game down into two huge chunks, the frustrating disaster that was the first half, and the incredible comeback which fueled the second half. Here are my final thoughts of the 2015 season.

The First Half: The Seahawks spotted the Panthers 31 points going into the halftime break. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong and both the Seattle offense and defense were to blame. On the very first play of the game Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart broke through into the Legion of Boom and galloped all the way down to the Seattle 16-yard line, a gain of 59 yards. This set up a Stewart touchdown run 3 plays later giving the Panthers a 7-0 lead only two and a half minutes into the game. On the Seahawks first possession of the game Carolina stole away any momentum the Seahawks were trying to muster and held a tight grasp on it for the rest of the half. On second down Russell Wilson felt immediate pressure and forced a pass to the middle of the field in the direction of Marshawn Lynch. Lynch had yet to turn around and Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly intercepted the pass and ran it in for a touchdown. 14-0 Panthers less than three and a half minutes into the game. After a Seahawks punt the Panthers drove down the field and scored again on a Stewart 1-yard touchdown run. 21-0 Panthers. On the first play of Seattle’s next possession Wilson felt rushed again and threw a low pass which was intercepted by Cortland Finnegan. A Carolina field goal made it 24-0 Panthers with 12:37 left in the second quarter. The nightmare continued on Carolina’s next possession. After a Seahawks punt the Panthers drove 54 yards in 9 plays culminating with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen. The Seahawks went into the halftime break down 31-0, their largest deficit in a game since 2010.

I noticed a few things in the first half that drove me crazy, some which we could control and others we really could not. For starters as the score went up I felt like our defense started to play panicked and tried to force their play. What I mean by this is instead of good fundamental tackling we would try to force takeaways by forcing the ball out which at times helped Carolina gain extra yards. Third down defense was also a problem, as Carolina converted 71 percent of their third down chances in the first half. On offense I found quarterback pressures and hurries to be particularly frustrating. One of the best facets of Russell Wilson’s game is his escapability and he did not do a good job of creating plays in the first half. He felt too comfortable in the pocket and trusted his offensive line almost to a fault. I also believe Wilson and the Seahawks offense discounted the speed of the Panthers defense. They absolutely swarmed him and ate him up in the first half, leading to two turnovers and a sack. The field also did not do the Seahawks any favors either. Players were slipping, sliding, and falling down throughout pregame warmups which led to harsh criticism which was discussed on the FOX broadcast in the early part of the game. Marshawn Lynch looked particularly uncomfortable playing on that sloppy surface, especially since the majority of his success running the ball depends on him being able to be shifty and cut sharply on the turf.

The Second Half: My hope was that if the Seahawks could somehow score 21 points in the third quarter to cut the Panthers lead to 10, we could put ourselves in position to potentially make the greatest comeback in NFL playoffs history a reality. For a time it looked like it might be doable. The Seahawks adjusted wonderfully coming out of the halftime break and came out firing. On the first offensive possession of the second half the Seahawks were set up thanks to a 50-yard kick return by Tyler Lockett. A personal foul by Carolina on the kickoff gave the Seahawks an additional 15 yards. On the fourth play of the drive Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse for a touchdown. After forcing the Panthers to punt the Seahawks took their next drive all the way down the field resulting in a touchdown pass to Lockett. Halfway through the third quarter the Seahawks were only 7 points away from my goal. It was 31-14 Carolina. At the pace we were going I thought an epic comeback was a real possibility at this point but after our next drive resulted in a punt it started to feel like it was going to be extremely difficult. The Seahawks got the ball back with 9:34 left in the game and we drove down the field to score a touchdown in 3 minutes and 28 seconds. With just over 6 minutes left in the game, two timeouts, needing two scores, and the Panthers getting the ball again the blueprint was set in terms of what we needed to do; force a Carolina punt, score, recover an onside kick, and score again. Step one was completed after Carolina held the ball for another 3 minutes. The Seahawks got the ball back with 2:49 left and kicked a field goal cutting the deficit to 7 with the clock reading 1:12. Just like last year’s NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks season continuing depended on recovering an onside kick. Steven Hauschka’s onside attempt was a good one but the ball was caught and held on to by Thomas Davis, sealing the victory for the Carolina Panthers.

It was a gritty, heartwarming effort. The Seahawks were dead to rights and the resolve this team showed shows exactly why we are able to be competitive in any game we play. No deficit is too big for this team and we came one score shy of tying or perhaps even winning the game. Hindsight is 20/20, but if the Seahawks would have been able to kick a field goal in the first half (either Hausckha’s miss at the end of the first half or deciding to kick a field goal instead of going for it on 4th and 5 late in the first half) and if Wilson would not have thrown one of his two interceptions there is a real possibility we are talking about a Seahawks victory instead. At the end of the day, turnovers may have been the primary culprit, which is what I was wary of in my game preview.

Thoughts on Carolina: This is a defense-driven football team and they are extremely good. With today’s performance I now am questioning whether or not the Seahawks have the best defense in the league. If not, that title definitely belongs to the Panthers. They will host the Cardinals next week and if they play exactly like how they did today, it will be the Carolina Panthers representing the NFC in Super Bowl 50. I look forward to playing the Panthers next season, arguably the best opponent we will play at CenturyLink Field in 2016.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will pick 25th, 26th, or 27th in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The pick better be used on the best offensive lineman available… The 2016 schedule will be released in April but here are our opponents next season. Home games at CenturyLink Field: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins. On the road: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, New York Jets… 37 days until the start of the NFL Scouting Combine and 102 days until the NFL Draft.

Thank you guys once again for logging on and reading this season. It always means a lot to me that you read and care about what I write. On to 2016. Go Seahawks!

Seahawks/Panthers Preview (NFC Divisional Playoff)

16 Jan
panthers divisional preview 2015

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: (6) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Carolina Panthers

Site: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, North Carolina)

Kickoff: 10:05am

We meet again. For the second consecutive season the Seahawks will take on the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Divisional playoffs. This time around however the tables have been turned. The Panthers enter this game after a 15-1 regular season, an NFC South division title, and earning home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. With their win last week the Seahawks advanced to the NFC Divisional round for the fourth straight season but instead of hosting like they did last season they have to travel across the country to take on the Panthers this January. The Seahawks won games against the Panthers in Charlotte in three consecutive seasons from 2012-2014. In their 2015 meeting in Seattle earlier this season however the Panthers bested the Seahawks 27-23. This will be an extremely difficult matchup for the Seahawks but I believe we match up well with what the Panthers will put onto the field. Here is what I will be watching for.

The Marshawn Lynch mystery drags on for at least one more week. The star running back has practiced all week and proclaimed to ESPN that he is “ready to go” but it will come down to a game-time decision if Lynch actually suits up and plays. If Lynch cannot go it will be Christine Michael who starts at running back once again. For the rest of the Seattle offense, much improvement needs to be shown in order to compete with the Panthers on the scoreboard. Quarterback Russell Wilson must improve on his accuracy because there is little doubt the fantastic play of the Minnesota defense last week rattled him. Limiting turnovers will also be a big key in the way this game plays out. Carolina leads the league in turnovers with 39, which are 10 more than any other team. They also lead the league in turnover differential with a mark of +20. The Seahawks offense will need to take the majority of their drives deep into Carolina territory in order to stay in this game.

Many people may not realize this but the Seahawks defense will play this game with a couple of big-name players who did not play against Carolina back in week 6. Back in October K.J Wright moved from outside to inside linebacker in place of Bobby Wagner who missed the game with an injury. This week Wagner will be back starting at middle linebacker and will be a tackling machine in the middle of the field. In 3 career games against the Panthers, Wagner has averaged 7.3 tackles per game and has also sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton once. In addition to Wagner, Jeremy Lane will start at cornerback. Cary Williams, who is no longer on the team, started at cornerback against the Panthers earlier this season. Lane’s primary job will be to cover Panthers wide receivers Philly Brown and Devin Funchess. Last week the Seahawks only forced one turnover. If the Seahawks defense can force at least two turnovers in the game we will be in decent shape.

The Carolina Panthers offense is one of the very best in the National Football League. Quarterback Cam Newton is considered to be a most valuable player candidate this season. All year long Newton has had fantastic on-field chemistry with tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen is Newton’s number one target and his numbers correlate to this notion. 26 percent of Newton’s passes were completed to Olsen this season. That percentage translates to 77 catches for 1,104 yards (both team highs) and 7 touchdowns. Olsen’s second best game of the season came against the Seahawks back in October. There is much more to the Carolina offense however and there are two other players whose presences cannot go unnoticed. My X-Factor Players to Watch for the Panthers are Pro Bowl running backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. I put my X-Factor spotlight on these two guys not because of their production on the ground, but the role they can play in the Carolina passing game. Stewart and Tolbert have combined for 253 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns this season. After watching film I see the possibility of Newton targeting these backs on screen passes and wheel routes/rollout passes inside the redzone.

Each level of the Carolina defense features incredible talent. Four Panthers defenders have been named to the Pro Bowl. The middle of the field will be a risky place for Russell Wilson to throw into as the Panthers are led by veteran linebackers and tackling machines Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Cornerback Josh Norman has had a meteoric rise to being one of the best cornerbacks in the league. His 4 interceptions and team-leading 18 passes defensed defend this reputation. The matchup that may have the most say in the Panthers season continuing on to the NFC Championship Game will be defensive tackle Kawann Short against the Seahawks offensive line. Short recorded 11 sacks this season and is considered one of the best pass rushers in football. Short is averaging one sack in each of his last 5 games and he was also able to bring Russell Wilson down in the backfield twice earlier this year. In short (no pun intended), this Panthers defense is scary good and it will take a monster effort to take them down.

Random Thoughts: At the start of the playoffs I assumed since the Seahawks would have to play three straight road games to get to the Super Bowl, that we would be wearing white throughout January. Instead the Panthers have elected to wear white jerseys and white pants this week. This means the Seahawks will wear college navy jerseys. The Seahawks will pair these jerseys with wolf grey pants. The Seahawks won in this combination in Carolina in both 2012 and 2013… Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have the call for FOX’s only broadcast of Divisional weekend… The referee this week is Tony Corrente… Nothing and I mean NOTHING would make me happier than to see all the Seahawks players “dab” on the sideline and take a group photo if we win. For those not familiar these are the hijinks the Panthers have participated in all season long at the end of their games and it would be a tremendous troll job if the Seahawks came away victorious and stuck up the proverbial middle finger in this way. If this happens look for Michael Bennett and perhaps Richard Sherman to lead the way… Brunch n’ ball for the final time this season. I’m glad this is the final 10am game of the season… Speaking of 10am starts, a random thought unrelated to this game. I am thrilled the Rams have relocated to Los Angeles. We know better than any other city what greed and corruption happens behind the scenes when it comes to franchise relocation (SuperSonics, duh) and from this perspective it is sad to see the Rams leave St. Louis. The reason I am thrilled however is because it benefits the Seahawks. Instead of traveling to the middle of the country each season we will now fly to Southern California. This eliminates one 10am kickoff each season and the Seahawks never have to play at the Edward Jones Dome again. The Seahawks went 7-7 in St. Louis dating back to 2002. Instead these road games against the Rams will be played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the next three seasons which is a stadium not known for having an intimidating home field advantage. It is still a little weird to see “Los Angeles Rams” in print. It will take a little while to get used to.

Prediction: The Seahawks have lost 6 straight Divisional playoff games played on the road. Although I hope I am wrong I believe that streak continues on Sunday. The first half will be an entertaining defensive battle with Carolina taking a 13-10 lead into halftime. In the second half however the Panthers defense will shut the Seahawks offense down. Carolina will score a touchdown (with a missed extra point), and two field goals on their first three possessions of the second half. The Seahawks will have opportunities to claw back into the game but Russell Wilson will throw two interceptions and the Carolina defense will also force a fumble near the end of the third quarter. The Seahawks season will end and the Panthers will move on and host the Arizona Cardinals in next week’s NFC Championship Game.

Panthers 25, Seahawks 13

Seahawks/Cardinals Preview

2 Jan
cardinals preview 2015 #2

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

Site: University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Arizona)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

Last week there was a possibility that this game would not matter to either the Seattle Seahawks or the Arizona Cardinals. However after losses by the Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers and wins by the Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings, the regular season finale in the desert is now extremely important for both teams. The Seahawks head to Arizona for the first time since the disastrous ending to Super Bowl XLIX as they take on the NFC West champion Cardinals. The Seahawks are 9-6 and with a win they will have won 10 or more games in each of the last 4 seasons. The Cardinals are 13-2, winners of nine straight games, and arguably the best team in football. Arizona leads the all-time series against the Seahawks 17-16. In their previous meeting earlier this season the Cardinals beat the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday Night Football 39-32. Here is what both teams have to do in order to head into the playoffs on the right foot.

Against the Rams a week ago the Seahawks finished the day -3 in turnover differential. The only way the Seahawks can win this game from an offensive perspective is to take care of the ball. It will be a difficult challenge because the Cardinals have forced 33 turnovers this season, good for second-best in the league. What worries me is how panicked Russell Wilson may play if the running game cannot get going and the Seahawks face a deficit late in the game, much like how last week’s game played out. Note though that Wilson has thrown only one interception since these two teams last played on November 15th. If the Seahawks can also control time of possession it will put us in a comfortable position for later on in the game. If the Seahawks can keep their offense on the field and if they win the turnover battle, this game will absolutely be winnable.

Much like how time of possession is an area of importance on offense, the same can be said of defense. The way to win T.O.P. on defense is to force Arizona into punts, and in order to force punts you need to stop them on third down. The Cardinals are the best team in the league on third down this season, converting nearly half of their third down opportunities (47.3 percent). The only way the Seahawks will be successful in getting the Cardinals off the field on third down is to put constant pressure on quarterback Carson Palmer. Over the course of this season the Seahawks have been very hot and cold when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. Bruce Irvin will have to have a big impact from the outside linebacker spot and he will be a dark horse player in the game if he can successfully penetrate Arizona’s stout offensive line.

All season long the Arizona Cardinals have done an incredible job creating explosive plays. With the Cardinals still using a running back by committee since the injury to Chris Johnson, the game will be won through the air. I expect to see Carson Palmer target wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald more than any other receiver since he is the best short and intermediate threat Arizona has on the offensive side of the ball. If Kam Chancellor remains sidelined I expect head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator James Bettcher to dial up several long passes down the field. If this is the case the speedy John Brown could be primed for a big game, as he will likely line up across from either DeShawn Shead or Jeremy Lane. Also keep an eye on Michael Floyd who could also have the opportunity to get loose with Richard Sherman likely covering Fitzgerald.

My number one focus on defense for the Cardinals is how the secondary will fare for the second straight week without safety Tyrann Mathieu. With Deone Bucannon likely moving from linebacker back to safety to fill in for Mathieu more will be required of the other three starters in Arizona’s secondary. Specifically I will be watching how the middle of the field will covered without the “honey badger” on the field. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Cardinals is their other starting safety, Rashad Johnson. Although he missed last week’s game against Green Bay Johnson has recorded 48 tackles this season, sixth among all Arizona defenders. The scariest number that jumps out on Johnson’s stat sheet is his team-high 5 interceptions. If the Seahawks throw the ball in the middle of the field look for Johnson to be in on each play. If the Cardinals can record multiple turnovers they will have an excellent chance to come away with the victory.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will break out the wolf grey uniforms for the second time this season. We are 6-0 all-time in this look. The Cardinals are eligible to wear their black alternate jerseys but I would not be surprised to see them wear all red instead… This week’s game has been picked to be “America’s Game of the Week” on FOX. Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Erin Andrews have the call… This week’s referee is second-year white hat Brad Allen… I hope the field is in good shape. University of Phoenix Stadium hosted the Fiesta Bowl on Friday afternoon so it is possible the field will be beat up. Luckily the Cardinals are one of the best teams in terms of getting their field prepared for a game. They’ll probably roll the field outside, work on it and let it sit in the sun tomorrow, then wheel it back into the building early Sunday morning… It feels a little strange to have regular season football being played after the new year. This is the first Seahawks regular season game played in January in 4 years (2011 season finale in Arizona)… If the Seahawks win I will be cheering like crazy for Green Bay in the Sunday night game. If Seattle loses I’ll be cheering like crazy for Minnesota instead. This is going to be a fun and wild ending to the regular season.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: There are 4 different possible scenarios that can play out on Sunday, one of which will determine who the Seahawks will play in next week’s wild-card playoff game. It will depend on who wins this game AND who wins the Sunday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. Here are the possibilities for next week’s wild-card game:

At Minnesota: Seahawks loss + Vikings win OR Seahawks win + Vikings win

At Washington: Seahawks win + Packers win

At Green Bay: Seahawks loss + Packers win

Prediction: If the NFL hadn’t flexed the Carolina Panthers game to 1:25pm I think there would be a better chance the Seahawks would come away victorious. However since Carolina and Arizona now play at the same time both teams will play at full strength to try to earn the number one seed in the NFC. Carson Palmer will throw for three touchdowns and the Arizona defense will force three turnovers. The Seahawks running game will be extremely inefficient for the second straight week. The Seahawks will finish the season 9-7, stumbling into the playoffs, and we will get ready for our wild-card game against the Green Bay Packers next week.

Cardinals 31, Seahawks 17

Rams/Seahawks Preview

26 Dec
rams preview 2015 #2

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

The Seahawks wrap up the home portion of their 2015 season on Sunday against a familiar December opponent. Seattle concludes their home slate against the division rival St. Louis Rams for the fifth time in the last six years. The Seahawks are 9-5 and have a playoff berth already wrapped up. The Rams are at the tail end of yet another mediocre season under head coach Jeff Fisher with a record of 6-8. Seattle leads the all-time series 21-14 but the Rams bested the Seahawks in week one, coming back to defeat the Kam Chancellor-less squad in overtime 34-31. 15 weeks later the Seahawks are a completely different team and the Rams have added a dynamic force on their offensive unit. Here is what I will be watching out for on Sunday.

Look for the Seahawks offense to try to mirror what it accomplished last week against Cleveland. Christine Michael will likely be the lead back and will see anywhere from 15 to 20 carries. The talk of the town has been the phenomenal play of quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Doug Baldwin. If Wilson can continue to avoid turning the ball over I believe our offense will put the team in good position to win. On defense my number one focus will be to watch how well our starters match the speed of the Rams offense. On the ground the combo of Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin has combined for 1,413 yards and 13 touchdowns. St. Louis likes to use Austin in the backfield and on end arounds so the Seahawks must be quick on the outside. The presence of Kenny Britt at receiver also equips St. Louis with an explosive downfield threat. Richard Sherman will likely cover Britt on Sunday. If the Seahawks can hold the Rams to under 300 yards of total offense it will be a successful day.

As I previously mentioned, the Rams have a weapon on the offensive side of the ball that was not available when these two teams faced off back in September. He is the guy I will keep my focus on more than any other Rams offensive player. Since his debut in week 3, running back Todd Gurley is on pace for 1,200 yards, has been named to the Pro Bowl, and is the front runner to win offensive rookie of the year. He is the closest thing to Marshawn Lynch that has come into the league in recent years and he has the talent to make even the toughest run defenses look silly. I believe Gurley will see at least 20 carries and if the Rams find success in the running game they will continue to feed him the ball. Getting solid production out of Gurley in this game will take a ton of pressure off of quarterback Case Keenum.

The mystery of the St. Louis Rams comes from their defense. Over the past few seasons the Rams have been hyped to be potential contenders for the NFC West crown. I believe a lot of this hype comes from the talent they possess on the defensive side of the ball. Yet somehow the pool of talent cannot seem to band together to help the team win football games. They remind me of the pre-Jim Harbaugh San Francisco 49ers; they have the talent but it is not being utilized correctly. The Rams defense will be represented in the Pro Bowl by defensive tackle/interior pass rusher Aaron Donald who leads the team with 11 sacks and also has the fourth most tackles on the defense with 64. The middle of the defense is anchored by veteran James Laurinaitis but the secondary is what I will have my eye on. Safety Mark Barron leads the team in tackles and cornerback Janoris Jenkins has recorded 14 passes defensed. The Rams other starting cornerback also has 14 passes defensed but has also done more on the stat sheet. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the St. Louis Rams is cornerback Trumaine Johnson. In just his fourth season, Johnson has emerged as one of the Rams best players. This season he has already shattered his personal best for interceptions in a single season with 6. He has intercepted a pass in each of his last three games and one of his interceptions occurred against the Seahawks in week one. Johnson will likely shadow the red-hot Doug Baldwin and with the trust Russell Wilson has had going to Baldwin over the past 5 weeks, particularly on third down, Johnson will absolutely see opportunities to make an impact in this game.

Random Thoughts: College navy jerseys and pants for the Seahawks. The Rams will wear white jerseys and will likely wear navy pants… Chris Myers and Ronde Barber will lead the broadcast on FOX… The referee for this week’s game is John Hussey… The gameday theme is fan appreciation which means the Seahawks will be giving away a wide array of prizes to the fans in attendance. In all the years I’ve been a season ticket holder I’ve only won something on fan appreciation day once; a 12 car flag in 2008… The Steve Largent Award will also be presented during pregame festivities. Russell Wilson won it last year and it is possible he could win it again… It’s disappointing this final regular season home game will be a goodbye to everyone I sit around until August of next year. I’ve been so used to having home playoff games to look forward to the past couple of years that this year feels slightly abnormal… If the Seahawks win they will have reached the 10-win mark. If that’s the case the Seahawks will have won at least 10 games in four consecutive seasons. What an amazing feat that would be.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: The Arizona Cardinals clinched the NFC West last week, meaning at best the Seahawks can be the #5 seed. With a win over the Rams the Seahawks will maintain their position as the #5 seed. The Seahawks can clinch the #5 seed with a win and a Minnesota Vikings loss. The Seahawks will fall to the #6 seed if they lose and the Vikings win. Here are this week’s other games with NFC playoff implications. Teams to note are bolded.

Washington (7-7) at Philadelphia (6-8) (Game to be played Saturday night)

Green Bay (10-4) at Arizona (12-2)

New York Giants (6-8) at Minnesota (9-5)

Prediction: The Rams have not won in Seattle since my 15th birthday. That draught will continue on Sunday. The game will be tied at halftime due to a strong first half by Todd Gurley but Russell Wilson will come out of the intermission on fire, throwing for touchdowns on our first two second half possessions. The Seahawks will get to 10-5 and will send the 12’s home happy one last time this season.

Seahawks 27, Rams 16

Browns/Seahawks Preview

19 Dec
browns preview 2015

Photo Credit: seattlepi.com

Matchup: Cleveland Browns at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:05pm

The Cleveland Browns are one of three NFL teams I have never seen play live. After Sunday that number decreases to two. On Sunday the Browns visit Seattle for the first time since 2003 when they take on the Seahawks. Talk about a tale of two teams. The Seahawks are soaring, sitting at 8-5 on the season and are currently on a 4-game winning streak. The Browns on the other hand are 3-10 and are one of a small handful of teams vying for the number one overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The all-time series between these teams is 11-6 in favor of the Seahawks. This record includes the seasons prior to the Browns being reborn as an expansion franchise in 1999. Our last meeting with Cleveland in 2011 remains one of the hardest Seahawks games I have ever watched. With Charlie Whitehurst making only his third career start at quarterback, the Seahawks were inept at moving the ball on offense. Amazingly Cleveland was not much better yet they edged the Seahawks by a score of 6-3. Here is what I will be watching for in this week’s game.

Of course the number one question everyone has been asking the past few days is “who is going to start at running back?” There are more questions that still need to be answered however. What kind of split will our offense have in regards to running vs. passing? Will Russell Wilson take more initiative trying to move the ball on the ground? Are we going to abandon the run altogether? I am going to try my best to answer these questions right now. I would not be surprised to see Fred Jackson start at running back and see the majority of the work especially since the Seahawks released DuJuan Harris earlier this week. Christine Michael, who was cut by the Seahawks and spent limited time with the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins this season, was re-signed on Wednesday. Bryce Brown was also re-signed after a cup of coffee with the team earlier in the year but has a limited understanding of our playbook. Both Michael and Brown have had issues fumbling the ball over the course of their careers so they may be on an equally short leash. As far as our offensive balance goes I think we will stick to establishing the run early on. If the running back, whoever it may be, struggles to move the ball efficiently I think we could see Russell Wilson throwing way more than we are accustomed to. Read option is a possibility but Cleveland is an opponent that can be beat without having to use read option a lot. I think the threat of read-option keepers by Wilson are best kept hidden until January. The only way the Seahawks would abandon the run entirely is if we are trailing late in the game when we would be forced to throw the ball.

Let’s talk about the Cleveland Browns offense. This is a squad that ranks in bottom three rushing units in all of football but are ranked 11th in passing yards per game, mainly because they trail in all their games and are forced to throw the ball. After gaining the starting job then losing it due to off-the-field troubles, the Browns will once again start second year quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel has focused on making more conservative passes and his completion percentages of 73.3 and 67.7 percent the past two weeks respectively speak towards this notion. Because of this he does not throw many interceptions (3 total this season). Travis Benjamin is Cleveland’s bang-or-bust weapon down the field and he leads all Browns receivers in targets the past two weeks with 18.  My focus will be on the Browns most consistent receiver. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Cleveland Browns is tight end Gary Barnidge. Barnidge signed a lucrative three-year contract extension last week and he is well deserving of it. Barnidge is no doubt a game changer and has been one of the lone bright spots on a porous Browns team. He leads the team with 901 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. Barnidge will see his share of receptions this week and given the Seahawks struggles with tight ends there is potential for him to have yet another big day on Sunday.

The Browns defense ranks near the bottom of the league in yards allowed per game but they feature some talented players. Their defensive line is led by defensive end Desmond Bryant but keep an eye on rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton who will have a big impact in shutting down the Seahawks running game. Veteran linebackers Paul Kruger and Karlos Dansby lead the second level of the defense. The secondary is a unit that has big play potential but they have been unable to stay healthy as a unit. Cornerback Joe Haden is on injured reserve and will miss the rest of the season after suffering a concussion in week 8. Justin Gilbert, the 8th overall pick by the Browns a season ago, has become irrelevant and if you asked Browns fans they might tell you he is not even worth a roster spot. With former Packer Tramon Williams leading the defense with 9 passes defensed and third on the team in tackles with 47, it will be up to left corner Charles Gaines to have a big game because it is likely Russell Wilson will test him often.

This week could be a huge week for the 12’s. Johnny Manziel has never played at CenturyLink Field and I have a strange feeling in my gut that he is the most likely quarterback to fail miserably at handling our crowd noise in recent years. I have never made a prediction as to how many false starts the opposing team will have but I strongly believe the Browns will have at least 5 false start penalties on Sunday, which would be the most of any opposing team in 2015.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will go all college navy at home. No surprise there. The Browns redesigned their uniforms over the offseason and they now have three different jersey, pant, and sock colors (white, brown, and orange). This week they will go with a clean look: White jerseys, white pants, and brown socks… For the second straight week Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, and Tony Siragusa are on the FOX broadcast. I hope fans sitting close to the field give Siragusa a hard time about the whole “Russell Williams” incident last week. He’ll be sure to say his name right this week. Wouldn’t be surprised if he brings it up on the broadcast either… Gene Steratore is the referee… I’m taking a friend of mine to the game who I went to school with but currently lives in San Francisco. He is driving home and is currently on the road as we speak. Hopefully he’s not too tired for a full day down at the stadium tomorrow… 1:05pm start this week so for those attending make sure you make it into the stadium a little earlier than normal… My goal was to have my Christmas shopping done and my presents wrapped by the time this game rolled around. Mission accomplished.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: There are numerous scenarios that involve the Seahawks clinching a playoff spot this week. The easiest of which I will discuss here. With the Rams win over Tampa Bay on Thursday night, the Seahawks can clinch a playoff spot with a win AND a loss by either the New York Giants or Washington Redskins. With a win Seattle will also maintain the #5 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks fall to the #6 seed if they lose and the Minnesota Vikings win. The Arizona Cardinals clinch the NFC West with a win over Philadelphia Sunday night or if the Seahawks lose. Here are the games to keep track of. Teams to note are bolded.

Carolina (13-0) at New York Giants (6-7)

Buffalo (6-7) at Washington (6-7)

Chicago (5-8) at Minnesota (8-5)

Arizona (11-2) at Philadelphia (6-7)

Prediction: This game is going to get ugly fast. Russell Wilson will throw 4 touchdown passes and Christine Michael will also run for a touchdown. The Browns only score will come in garbage time when Johnny Manziel hits Travis Benjamin for a touchdown. The Seahawks will clinch a playoff spot by the end of the day and we will head into the Christmas week with a 9-5 record.

Seahawks 38, Browns 7

Seahawks/Ravens Preview

12 Dec
ravens preview 2015

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens

Site: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore, Maryland)

Kickoff: 10:00am

Before the regular season started I picked the Baltimore Ravens to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50. With this game originally scheduled for Sunday Night Football many people including me thought this game could shape the postseason picture for both teams. As it turns out only the Seahawks are vying for playoff position heading into this week. Seattle heads to Baltimore for the first time since 2003 to take on the Ravens. After a 38-7 thrashing of the Minnesota Vikings last week the Seahawks are 7-5 and are in prime position to make a serious push for the #5 seed in the NFC. The Ravens however struggled out of the gate and never recovered. Poor play and a wide array of injuries to key players have put the Ravens at 4-8 on the season. The all-time series between these teams is tied 2-2 with Seattle taking the last two meetings. These two teams last met in Seattle in 2011 where the Seahawks upset the Ravens 22-17. Here is what I will be watching out for in this game.

The main offensive key for the Seahawks this week is to remain consistent in order to carry over the success from last week. In the games we have won in recent weeks the running game led by Thomas Rawls has been superb. The Seahawks will likely establish the run again but it is only a matter of time before Rawls has an off game. Could this week could be that game? Baltimore ranks 10th in run defense allowing only 97.5 rushing yards per game. This may be a game where Russell Wilson has to do more through the air to score points instead of relying on Rawls for big pickups. With the emergence of wide receiver Doug Baldwin as Wilson’s go-to target over the past two weeks it would not surprise me to see Baldwin receive extra coverage from the Ravens secondary. This should open up looks for our other receivers. With the Ravens only allowing 39 yards receiving to tight ends per game look for Jermaine Kearse to make a significant impact in the passing game.

This could be a fairly easy day for the Seattle defense. We will not be facing regular Ravens starters Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, and Steve Smith. There are two keys to victory on defense I will be focusing on. The first will be to put pressure on whichever Ravens quarterback starts. I believe the slightest bit of pressure will throw either Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen off and he could be more prone to forcing the ball and throwing bad passes. The second key is to make sure we tackle well and do not give up yards after contact. With a backup quarterback comes the very high probability of them throwing a lot of high percentage passes. High percentage passes means the ball carrier or receiver will have space to make big plays potentially happen. Look for linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner to make a huge impact in the middle of the field.

Like I previously mentioned the Baltimore Ravens have one of the more depleted offenses in the league. On the offensive side of the ball running back Javorius “Buck” Allen will have to have a big game to take the pressure off of either Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen in the passing game. If Baltimore has any shot to win this week it will come on the shoulders of an extremely impressive defensive performance. Similarly to the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple weeks ago, the Ravens have lost dynamic leaders on the defensive side of the ball over the past few years. Future hall of famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone. All-Pro linebacker Terrell Suggs is also injured and out for the season. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil leads all Ravens defenders in sacks with 6 but my focus will be on the second level of their defense. There are two guys I will have my eye on in particular and they are both responsible for defending the middle of the field. My X-Factor Players to Watch are inside linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley. Smith is in his 12th NFL season and is on pace for the best statistical season of his career. Mosley is in his second season after being drafted in the first round by the Ravens last season. These two guys have combined for 174 tackles so far this season which is good for nearly one quarter of the Ravens total tackles. They can also get to the quarterback and drop into coverage. They each have 3 sacks this season while Mosley has dropped back to record 5 passes defensed. Watch out for how these two players attack Russell Wilson, Thomas Rawls, Luke Willson, and all the Seahawks receivers on short crossing routs to the middle of the field.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear white jerseys and college navy pants. No word on what color jerseys the Ravens will wear but there is this stat: The Ravens have only worn their black alternate jerseys once this season. With three home games remaining including this week and one more eligible opportunity to wear their alternates, there is a 33 percent chance the Ravens will sport black in this game… Thom Brennaman and Charles Davis have the call for FOX with Tony Siragusa commentating from the sidelines. Many complain about other announcers such as Joe Buck and Chris Myers but I think Seahawks fans will be really annoyed with the broadcast this week. Why? Siragusa is a former Raven who could have a biased loyalty towards the home team. If you watch this game and get frustrated because the commentators are not giving the Seahawks proper credit this is probably why… Walt Coleman is the referee for this week’s game… It looks like it will be another abnormally warm week weather wise. The game-time temperature is slated to be in the low to mid 60’s and cloudy. It’s funny because that is pretty much the same weather the Seahawks had in Washington D.C. for a game in early OCTOBER last season… Quite frankly I am glad this game got flexed out of Sunday Night Football and the reason I am glad is because of the players. A primetime game on the east coast starts at 8:30pm which means the game won’t end until close to midnight. After meeting with the media, driving to the airport, and a cross-country flight, the Seahawks likely would not land back in Seattle until about 5:00am pacific time. This would make for an epically cruel and tiring Monday. Having the game start at 10:00am pushes that itinerary back. Now the Seahawks will likely land back in Seattle around the same time Sunday Night Football ends, which is about an 8 hour difference… Fantasy playoffs start this week and I made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Shoutout to my starting lineup: Aaron Rodgers, Amari Cooper, Marvin Jones, Jonathan Stewart, T.J. Yeldon, Thomas Rawls, Gary Barnidge, Graham Gano, and the Carolina Panthers defense.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: With a win the Seahawks take control of the #5 seed in the NFC. If the Seahawks lose they will still hold the #6 seed if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also lose. The Seahawks fall out of the playoff picture if they lose and the Buccaneers win. Here are other games this week with playoff significance. Teams to note are bolded.

New Orleans (4-8) at Tampa Bay (6-6)

Atlanta (6-6) at Carolina (12-0)

Prediction: This game will not be as close as the score indicates. Both Husky receivers Jermaine Kearse and Kevin Smith will catch touchdown passes from Russell Wilson, Smith’s being the first of his career. Thomas Rawls will also gallop for a 52-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The Ravens will score two garbage time touchdowns but the Seahawks will have the game wrapped up. The Seahawks will head home 8-5 with two straight home games on deck in the middle of the holiday season.

Seahawks 30, Ravens 17

Seahawks/Vikings Preview

5 Dec
vikings preview 2015

Photo Credit: Vikings.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings

Site: TCF Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Kickoff: 10:00am

Raise your hand if you had this game as the Seahawks most important game of the season when the schedule came out. After three consecutive games at home the Seahawks hit the road for two straight games. Up first is a huge conference matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks are 6-5 and are coming off a huge win over Pittsburgh a week ago. The Vikings were a team that many experts said to keep an eye on at the start of the season and they are proving the experts right. Minnesota holds an impressive 8-3 record and are currently the leaders of the NFC North. Seattle leads the all-time series 8-5. In their last meeting the Seahawks crushed the Vikings 41-20 in Seattle and the Seahawks eventually went on to win the super bowl. This could very well be a preview of a potential playoff matchup next month. Here is what I will be watching for.

The Minnesota defense allows an average of only 17.6 points per game, second best in the league. It is imperative for the Seahawks offense to be able to stay on the field and drive deep into Vikings territory. Thomas Rawls will face his biggest challenge of the season and I will be keeping close tabs on his yardage coming on first down opportunities. If he can gain at least 4 yards on first down it will put the offense in a good position to gain first downs and keep drives alive. In the passing game I will be focused on the blocking by left tackle Russell Okung and left guard Justin Britt. The right side of the Vikings front seven consists of lineman Everson Griffen as well as linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. These three players have combined for 14 of Minnesota’s 25 sacks this season (56 percent). I expect Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to take care of the ball just like how he did a week ago against Pittsburgh but he must be more aware of his blindside in this game. If Okung and Britt struggle to block it would not be surprising to see Wilson get hit and fumble the ball multiple times. Quick passes to Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and Luke Willson may be the best way to attack the Vikings through the air this week.

If there was one game this season where I wish we still had Red Bryant it would be for this game. Priority number one for the Seahawks defense this week will be to stop Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. It will be up to Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin to lock down the middle of the line of scrimmage. Given the solid play of Minnesota’s offensive line penetrating the line will be difficult. Good fundamental tackling will go a long way to limiting Peterson’s production. One guy on defense that may see more playing time than usual is Jordan Hill. In an attempt to limit Peterson’s presence it may not be surprising to see Hill, Mebane, and Rubin all play on the line at the same time.

The Minnesota Vikings have the top ranked rushing offense in the league. In contrast they also sport the league’s second worse pass offense. At age 30 Adrian Peterson is still as productive as ever and the Vikings offense is only as effective as he is. Peterson leads the league in rushing yards with 1,164 and has rushed for over 100 yards six times this season. The Vikings are 6-0 in those games. My worry is that the Vikings will use other ways to move the ball on the ground in an attempt to avoid throwing towards the Legion of Boom. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Vikings this week is one of the better young quarterbacks in the league and the man that makes the entire Minnesota offense work, Teddy Bridgewater. Although Bridgewater has not thrown for many touchdowns, he is a very conservative passer who tries to move the ball in small chunks to wear out the opposing defense. Bridgewater has had a completion percentage of over 65 percent in six games. In those games he has thrown only two interceptions. The main reason why he is my X-Factor this week is the threat of him keeping the ball and running. Although he has not nearly put up the type of rushing stats as Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick of seasons past, Bridgewater is one of the faster quarterbacks in the league and he will scramble and take off if he feels the pressure and does not have any open receivers. Peterson may be the number one priority of the Seattle defense but Bridgewater also contributes to that top ranked rushing attack. Plain and simple, shut Peterson and Bridgewater down on the ground, win the game.

Something that is not garnering the attention that I believe it should is one fairly significant advantage the Seahawks have in this game. Gone are the days of playing the Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which was one of the better home field advantages in the NFL. It would be a tougher challenge for the Seahawks if we were playing at the Metrodome. Instead the Vikings are playing the second of two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota while their brand new stadium is under construction. The stadium seats just over 51,000 which is the smallest capacity of any current NFL stadium and crowd noise will hardly be a factor.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear white jerseys and wolf grey pants. Seattle is 0-4 all-time in this combination. The Vikings will wear purple jerseys and white pants… Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch will have the play-by-play and commentary respectively on FOX. Pam Oliver will report from the sidelines… Terry McAulay will be this week’s referee… I briefly considered hitting the road for this game but ultimately decided to go to Dallas instead. The reason behind that decision was the potential weather in Minneapolis. Being a December game I thought there was a realistic possibility of it being below freezing and snowing. Hindsight is 20/20 and in that vein it looks like it will be a nice day for football. The high temperature on Sunday will be in the low 40’s and it will be sunny. That is exactly the kind of weather we have experienced in Seattle the past two weeks… After this week the combined record of the Seahawks next three opponents is 10-23. Translation: If the Seahawks beat the Vikings, you will be extremely hard-pressed to make the argument that Seattle will miss out on the playoffs.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: The Seahawks currently hold the #6 seed in the NFC playoffs and with a win we are locked into this spot for at least another week; we cannot move up but a loss may knock us out of the current playoff picture. Seattle is three games behind the Arizona Cardinals for first place in the NFC West. Here are games to keep track of that may have NFC playoff implications this week. Teams to note are bolded.

Arizona (9-2) at St. Louis (4-7)

Atlanta (6-5) at Tampa Bay (5-6)

Prediction: The Seahawks are 12-2 in games played in December with Russell Wilson at quarterback. Each of the prior three seasons our December success has carried us to the playoffs. With the win last week we will be riding some serious momentum into this game. Thomas Rawls will run for over 125 yards and score two touchdowns. Wilson will also throw a touchdown to Luke Willson. The game will come down to Minnesota’s final drive. After a punt by Jon Ryan pins the Vikings at their own 2-yard line, Bridgewater will have to drive 98 yards for a game-tying touchdown. On the first play of the drive Minnesota will be penalized for holding in the endzone, giving the Seahawks a safety and in-turn, clinching the game for Seattle. We will improve to 7-5 and be in the driver’s seat for an NFC wild-card berth.

Seahawks 26, Vikings 17

49ers/Seahawks Preview

21 Nov
49ers preview 2015 #2

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

It is amazing to think how far this rivalry has fallen in a mere 24 months. Two years ago these two teams were arguably the two best teams in football, battling for not only the NFC West division title but for supremacy in the National Football Conference. We now sit here in November of 2015 and our matchup this week against the San Francisco 49ers is a game that will be largely overlooked by the entire country, possibly for good reason. The Seahawks sit at 4-5, needing a win to avoid being virtually eliminated from playoff contention altogether. The 49ers are 3-6, and have not improved since these two teams met four weeks ago in Santa Clara. In fact San Francisco’s season has gone so far south that head coach Jim Tomsula has benched franchise quarterback Colin Kaepernick in favor of backup Blaine Gabbert. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the 49ers 19-15. Here is what to watch for on Sunday.

Patrick Lewis will start his second consecutive game at center on Sunday. I believe that our running game and Russell Wilson’s ability to find open receivers (as evidenced from the first time we played San Francisco) will be fine as long as we can control the tempo; something we were not able to do last week. My primary focus on offense this week will be how well the offensive line blocks. After making small progress in prior week’s our offensive line regressed significantly against Arizona last week. Along with the inability to protect Russell Wilson we were also called for numerous holding penalties which did not allow us to do what we wanted to do in the offensive game plan. What I would like to see this week is for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to put together a game plan that can take the pressure off the offensive line. The Seahawks have played 10 games and it should be obvious that we cannot have Wilson drop back five or more steps, have the time to go through his progressions, and make confident throws down the field. I would like to see more read option as well as quick passes and screens against the mediocre 49ers defense. Putting each play in Marshawn Lynch’s hands or in the hands of the receivers close to the line of scrimmage will help our offense thrive in this matchup.

The Seahawks lost outside linebacker Bruce Irvin to a sprained MCL late in last Sunday’s loss and he will not play in this game. My focus on defense will be how we replace Irvin both in coverage and in pass rushing situations. Mike Morgan will likely start in his place and play the majority of the snaps. Look for Morgan’s main contribution to be in pass coverage. On third down head coach Pete Carroll said this week that Frank Clark and Cassius Marsh will see expanded snaps in place of Irvin. With both of these players defensive ends, it would not surprise me to see the Seahawks play more of a “52” defense with five defensive linemen. If the Seahawks can sack Blaine Gabbert at least three times I think our defense will but us in good shape to win the game.

The San Francisco 49ers look like a completely different team on offense from the unit we saw back on October 22nd. As I previously mentioned Colin Kaepernick has been benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert. Two weeks ago Gabbert was able to do just enough to squeak out an impressive upset victory over the Atlanta Falcons. In addition to Gabbert at quarterback, starting running back Carlos Hyde has been sidelined with a foot injury. Two weeks ago the 49ers used a running back by committee system. Shaun Draughn saw the majority of carries against Atlanta while Kendall Gaskins got the goal line carries. These two backs will likely split time again if Hyde does not play. One thing to always keep an eye on is which skill position players are favorited by which quarterbacks. My X-Factor Player to Watch is a guy who is favorited by Blaine Gabbert, tight end Garrett Celek. According to the official 49ers depth chart following the trade of Vernon Davis to Denver the starting tight end is now Vance McDonald. Celek however was the offensive star of Gabbert’s first and only start of the season. He caught both of his only targets for 12 yards but both were also touchdown catches. Given the Seattle defense’s ineffectiveness in covering tight ends down the seam it would make sense for Celek to see a fair share of targets if the 49ers can drive the ball deep into Seahawks territory. Celek will be Gabbert’s favorite target in red zone situations.

Commentary on Russell Wilson: There has been talk over the past week about the recent performance and perception of Russell Wilson. Some have blasted his bye week vacation to Mexico with his girlfriend Ciara. The idea of whether or not Wilson is a “tool” was also debated on local sports radio. Seriously. Here are my thoughts on all this noise. Wilson came to Seattle as a 3rd round pick and had to earn his spot as our starting quarterback with Matt Flynn presumably already our starter. His performance during training camp and the 2012 preseason earned him the job. Three years later he is the winningest quarterback through his first three seasons in NFL history and has led the Seahawks to three playoff appearances, two conference championships and one world championship. So what’s the problem? I believe, fair or unfair, that his work ethic was so intense and admirable that it became the expectation. What I believe we are seeing now is Wilson taking his foot only the slightest bit off of the gas in regards to his daily routines and because he is not seemingly spending every waking moment in the film room like he may have been doing in seasons past if feels like he is being punished by Seahawks fans who are ready to blame Wilson for our 4-5 record. I just do not believe that this is fair. Would I had loved to see Wilson use the bye week to stay in Seattle, get healthy, and use the extra time to prepare even more intensely for the Arizona game? Absolutely. But the man is human after all and I believe he has been overly criticized for how he spent his week off.

Random Thoughts: All blue everything for the Seahawks on Sunday. The 49ers will sport white jerseys and gold pants… Chris Myers and Ronde Barber have the call for FOX this week. This is the first Seahawks game Myers will do play-by-play for since week 17 of the 2013 season. I believe when the schedule came out this game was going to be “America’s Game of the Week” with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman but because San Francisco and Seattle is not a nationally appealing matchup anymore, combined with the 7-2 Minnesota Vikings playing host to the 6-3 Green Bay Packers at the same time we play, we are stuck with Myers and Barber. To those watching on television I am sorry. It is going to be a brutal game to watch… This week’s referee is none other than Ed Hochuli… The annual wiener dog races is the halftime show! It is probably the only halftime show I enjoy watching… There’s also a giveaway this week! “We Are 12” gloves. Those will certainly come in handy as the game-time temperature is predicted to be in the low 40’s… Breakfast in Bellevue and pregaming at the Hawks Nest for the first time since week 3. Out of the house by 7:15am.

Prediction: This week will be a domination that could springboard the Seahawks into a run towards a wild-card spot. Marshawn Lynch will run for two touchdowns and Russell Wilson will throw for a pair of touchdowns; one to Jermaine Kearse and one to Tyler Lockett. San Francisco will struggle so bad that Blaine Gabbert will be benched in the third quarter in favor of Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick will lead a garbage time scoring drive culminating in a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith. The Seahawks will go to 5-5 and head into the Thanksgiving weekend happy.

Seahawks 31, 49ers 10

Panthers/Seahawks Preview

17 Oct
Photo Credit: Panthers.com

Photo Credit: Panthers.com

Matchup: Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:05pm

For the second straight week the Seahawks will face off against an undefeated opponent, this time at the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. The defending NFC South champion Carolina Panthers come to town to take on the Seahawks in what will be their 4th straight season meeting in the regular season. The Panthers have gotten off to a 4-0 start and control first place in the NFC South. The Seahawks of course are 2-3 after losing a heartbreaker in Cincinnati last Sunday. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Panthers 7-2. Their last meeting came back in January when the Seahawks dismantled Carolina 31-17 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. Before the season many 12’s would have rolled their eyes at this matchup and assumed a win was imminent. Instead this will be a very difficult game for the Seahawks to win and they are going to have to earn it. Here are some points of emphasis I will be looking at in this game.

Last week before the Seahawks defense collapsed late in the game the Seahawks offensive line did a decent job of protecting quarterback Russell Wilson. With no personnel changes coming along the line this week, I expect more improvement from this unit. It will be a challenge because once again the Seahawks will face one of the best defenses in the league. Last week the Seahawks offense found success especially in the long passing game. Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin in particular had very productive days. Against Carolina expect to see more of what worked against the Bengals, including deep shots, and intermediate passes in the middle of the field. Running back Marshawn Lynch is also expected to be back this week which should bolster Seattle’s offensive game plan. Keep in mind however that in his last 4 games against Carolina, Lynch has run for an average of only 62 yards per game. The Seahawks will be in good shape if they can score at least 24 points on Sunday.

This week on defense the Seahawks must play a clean game. My eye will be on Michael Bennett in particular. Last week Bennett was flagged for a personal foul penalty at the end of the first half and he also jumped offsides once, something that has unfortunately become his trademark. Eliminating penalties will go a long way in making sure we have a successful day on defense.

The evolution of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has steadily progressed in 2015. With limited resources around him at the skill positions, Newton has had to take the game into his own hands to make big plays happen. Newton should absolutely be the Seahawks defense’s number one priority. The Seahawks have yet to face a duel-threat quarterback this season but have done an excellent job in stopping Newton in prior matchups. This season Newton has only thrown for 200 or more yards one time, and he is averaging 49 yards per game on the ground. In his career against the Seahawks however Newton has averaged only 171 yards per game passing and 35 yards per game running. Shutting Newton down will mean the Seahawks will likely come out of this week with a win.

As I said above, the Carolina Panthers offense is missing key playmakers due to injury. Starting wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is out for the season with a torn ACL and receiver Stephen Hill is also unavailable. In the passing game it will be up to rookie Devin Funchess and veteran tight end Greg Olsen among others to get open for Newton to be effective through the air. It will be an extremely difficult task, but in my eyes the best way for the Panthers to be successful on offense is to pound the rock with running back Jonathan Stewart. Stewart is now the lone option in the backfield after the departure of DeAngelo Williams. Using the read-option with Stewart could take a lot of pressure off of Newton. Keep in mind however that Stewart has not scored a touchdown yet this season and is only averaging 55 yards per game on the ground. Misdirection must be a key component for the Carolina offense in order to trick the Seahawks defense for yards and possibly even points.

Of all the defenses the Seahawks have faced so far this season, no unit may be better as a whole when healthy than the Carolina Panthers defense. This week the Panthers will be close to full strength with the return of all-pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly from a month-long concussion. Outside linebackers Thomas Davis and rookie Shaq Thompson have combined for 37 tackles and a pair of sacks in their first 4 games and the secondary is anchored by Josh Norman at cornerback who has averaged in interception in each game thus far. Defensive end Jared Allen was traded to Carolina from the Chicago Bears two days after Allen suited up for the Bears in Seattle against the Seahawks in our home opener on September 27th. Although he has been ruled out with a back injury, Allen should have a fresh memory of what he went up against three weeks ago so his expertise and mentoring of the rest of Carolina’s defensive personnel could give them a leg up in game preparation. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Panthers is likely the primary beneficiary of Allen’s injury, defensive end Mario Addison. After recording two sacks in their season opener, Addison has made minimal impact rushing the passer. His season high for tackles is 4 back in week 3 and he did not show up on the stat line in their last game against Tampa Bay. With the help of Allen in the film room however, do not be surprised if Addison makes a big impact in this game.

Random Thoughts: All navy everything for the Seahawks this week. The Panthers will wear white tops and silver pants… Sam Rosen and John Lynch have the call for FOX with Pam Oliver reporting from the sidelines. Rosen takes over play-by-play duties from Kevin Burkhardt who is currently covering the Major League Baseball postseason for FOX. This is normally the #2 FOX broadcast crew… This is the first of two 1:05pm kickoffs at home this season. A public service announcement to those attending; please be aware that kickoff comes 20 minutes earlier than the Chicago game. Make sure you leave the bars and tailgates a little earlier so you’ll be in your seats with time to spare… Terry McAulay is the referee this week. McAulay previously called the NFC Divisional Playoff between these two teams back in January… This week I will be tailgating in the sky. I’m taking a friend who lives in the Stadium Place apartments in the CenturyLink Field North lot. We’ll be on the roof hovering over those making their way into the stadium. It should be fun. I was up there before the preseason game against Oakland but the roof was completely empty. Maybe things will be spiced up since this is a regular season game… What I like about the view from his building is that you can eavesdrop into the stadium hours before the gates even open, so you get kind of a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the gameday presentation rehearsals. After this game there will be a 28 day gap between home games. Normally that would be brutal but good thing I’m going on a couple of trips in between to dull the pain.

Prediction: The Panthers always play us tough and this week will be no different. Russell Wilson will throw a touchdown to Jimmy Graham and Marshawn Lynch will run one in from 25 yards out. The Seahawks defense will be faced with a similar situation from last week and will redeem themselves. Needing a touchdown to take the lead, Cam Newton will be intercepted by Earl Thomas with less than two minutes left, clinching the Seattle victory. The Seahawks will get to 3-3, the same record they had after 6 games a season ago.

Seahawks 20, Panthers 16