Tag Archives: St. Louis Rams

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

Review: Rams 23, Seahawks 17

27 Dec
rams review 2015 #2

Photo Credit: stlouisrams.com

“We want Seattle.”

It was the phrase that flooded Twitter late Saturday night from Washington Redskins fans who, like many Seahawks fans, assumed their team was destined to host the #5 seeded Seahawks in the Wild-Card round of the playoffs. For Seattle it seemed simple; take care of business against the St. Louis Rams and the Seahawks would seemingly have the fifth seed wrapped up. Pump the brakes because those plans are absolutely on hold. The Seahawks had numerous chances to take control of Sunday’s game but could not overcome three huge turnovers and several self-inflicted mistakes. The Rams came into CenturyLink Field and shocked the Seahawks 23-17. The loss drops Seattle to 9-6 and the Seahawks temporarily hold the #6 seed in the NFC playoffs. Now instead of Washington, the Seahawks could wind up playing one of three potential opponents in the first week of the playoffs depending on how next week’s slate of games plays out. For now however, here are my brief thoughts on today’s stunning defeat.

Offensive Line and Running Game: Talk about knocking a house down. After weeks of solid chemistry and play from our offensive line the group caved against a superior Rams front line. Quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked 4 times and he was constantly under pressure and flushed out of the pocket. To make matters worse, the Seahawks running game could not get anything going all day long. Our leading rusher not named Russell Wilson was Fred Jackson who tallied up an extremely underwhelming 11 yards on the ground. Bryce Brown saw only 7 carries and last week’s feature back Christine Michael only touched the ball 6 times. Could it be time to hit the panic button if Marshawn Lynch does not return soon? After Sunday’s performance I find it hard to believe we will have better success against an even better Arizona Cardinals defense on the road next week. We must decide on a feature back because the Jackson/Brown/Michael committee we threw out on the field against St. Louis will not be effective moving forward.

Thoughts on Officiating: On the whole I have no qualms about how this game was officiated. I do believe however that the referees messed up once, when Rams running back Benny Cunningham fumbled on third down with 13:37 left in the game. The ball looked to have been recovered by the Seahawks but was immediately ruled Rams ball. After a brief discussion the ruling was temporarily overturned to Seahawks ball on the field but was then changed back to the original call of St. Louis ball. Since the Seahawks had already lost both their challenges they did not have an extra challenge to their disposal. I believe if there is any debate about which team recovered a fumble the safest route is to give the ball to the defense because then the play is automatically reviewed since it is a turnover. Ruling Rams ball gave the Seahawks no chance to prove they in fact recovered the ball. Unfortunately the touchdown St. Louis scored later on in the drive was the difference on the scoreboard at the end of the game.

Turnovers: The Seahawks defense allowed only 207 yards to the Rams offense. You see that number and think “the Seahawks probably dominated them and won the game.” Wrong. At the end of the day three turnovers cost the Seahawks the game. Will Tukuafu fumbled a handoff in the first quarter which was picked up and run in by the Rams Akeem Ayers, giving St. Louis a 10-0 lead. Russell Wilson threw his first interception in 6 weeks at the end of the first half, and Wilson also fumbled late in the game which pretty much sealed the win for the Rams. This may have been the sloppiest game the Seahawks have played all season and it could not have come at a worse time. You will not win football games in this league when you end the day -3 in turnover differential. It was simply unacceptable.

Thoughts on St. Louis: Could this team finally be turning the corner for good? This kind of statement win could give the St. Louis Rams serious momentum heading into 2016. Todd Gurley looks like the real deal after having a chance to see him play firsthand. This team always gives us fits and I do not believe it will be easy for them to regress. There is a solid possibility this team could be wild-card contenders next season.

Random Thoughts: It was great to finish up the home slate of games with one more pregame at the Hawks Nest… Introducing the special teams during pregame may not have been the best move. It was supposed to be the offense’s turn to run out of the tunnel individually… Congratulations to Richard Sherman for winning the 2015 Steve Largent Award. Well-deserved sir… I believe I got 7 beers for the price of 4 inside the stadium throughout the game. Let me explain. My friend Jake and I entered the stadium and immediately got food. I asked for 4 slices of pizza and two Bud Lights for the two of us, a total of about $51. The concessions worker gave us 4 slices of pizza and 4 Bud Lights so we essentially got 2 extra beers at no charge. Then later on we stopped a beer vendor walking up the aisle and asked for two more Bud Lights. The total this time came to around $17. The vendor cracked open the first beer and handed it to Jake, then he cracked open a Red Hook Long Hammer IPA by mistake. He immediately recognized his blunder and cracked open two more Bud Lights for us. So we paid for two and got a third beer on the house. All in all that adds up to 7 beers for the price of 4. Talk about an unintentional fan appreciation special!… It sucks this is how I leave CenturyLink Field for the final time until August. This will surely leave a bad taste in my mouth throughout the offseason.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: There are several scenarios that could land the Seahawks either the #5 seed or #6 seed. Here are the scenarios for the final week of the season:

The Seahawks earn the #5 seed with a win over Arizona and a Green Bay Packers win over the Minnesota Vikings. In this scenario the Seahawks would play Washington in the wild-card round.

If the Seahawks lose to Arizona we will be locked in to the #6 seed. In this scenario if Green Bay beats Minnesota next week, the Seahawks will play Green Bay in the wild-card round. However if Minnesota beats Green Bay, the Vikings will win the NFC North and the Seahawks will travel to Minnesota to play the Vikings in the wild-card round.

What’s Next: The Seahawks close out the regular season next Sunday on the road as they take on the NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals. Look for my game preview on Saturday morning.

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

Review: Seahawks 30, Browns 13

20 Dec
browns review 2015

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

It was not quite the blowout we all thought was possible but at the end of the day there should be no room for complaints. The Seahawks took care of business as expected on Sunday, defeating the Cleveland Browns 30-13. With the win the Seahawks improve to 9-5 and thanks in part to the New York Giants loss earlier in the day Seattle has clinched a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season. Cleveland’s record falls to a dismal 3-11. Here now are some brief thoughts following today’s win.

Wilson Stays Hot: For the fifth straight game quarterback Russell Wilson avoided throwing an interception. He finished his day 21/30 for 249 yards and 3 touchdowns before turning the reigns over to Tarvaris Jackson late in the game. In the last 5 weeks Wilson has thrown for 1,420 yards, 19 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Once again two of his touchdown tosses went to Doug Baldwin who continues his own hot streak of 10 touchdown receptions over the past 4 games. Last week I briefly talked about how Wilson’s performance is coming at the best time and with two more games before the playoffs this is a perfect time for this wave of momentum to continue. Unfortunately I believe the only thing that is keeping his name out of the MVP race is the Seahawks record. Wilson may be the quarterback opponents do not want to face the most, especially at this point in the season.

The Upper Hand: Bryce Brown had the longest run of the game but he was not the more consistent running back. Christine Michael led all Seahawks running backs in carries with 16 and he made the most of his opportunities, rushing for 84 yards and a 5.3 yards per carry average. I had a feeling Michael would make the bigger impact because of his experience in our offensive system and his knowledge of the playbook. Ball security was something that also had me smiling, as neither Michael nor Brown coughed up the ball. Moving forward I expect Michael to be the Seahawks lead back and it would not surprise me to see Brown phased out of our game plan entirely for our final two regular season games.

A Long Wait: When people think of what makes a game “ugly” the first thing that usually comes to mind is turnovers. I thought this game would be a perfect opportunity for the Legion of Boom to feast on multiple Cleveland mistakes. At least that was the assumption. Unfortunately it took 47 minutes and 43 seconds for the Seahawks to record their first and only takeaway of the game, an interception by cornerback Marcus Burley. With strong safety Kam Chancellor inactive Seattle’s defense was not at full strength. Nevertheless forcing only one Browns turnover was disappointing. My hope is that the defense just had an off game. Here is something to keep in mind going forward. The Seahawks have recorded multiple takeaways in only 6 of our 14 games. Going up against another conservative quarterback next week it may be hard to force turnovers yet again.

Thoughts on Cleveland: On Sunday I could see Johnny Manziel’s potential playing out on the field. Unfortunately he will likely be one of only a handful of players that will continue their careers with the Browns in 2016. This franchise is once again in need of a complete overhaul. Mike Pettine is not a good fit to be the head coach of this team and Ray Farmer has not done enough in his limited time as general manager to prove to owner Jimmy Haslam he deserves more time to put this team together. Even Haslam may not be the best owner for this franchise and that really says something about just exactly how bad it is in Cleveland. This team needs to put together a couple of solid draft classes in the next couple of seasons before I can consider them a team ready to challenge for a playoff berth.

Random Thoughts: It’s semi-disappointing we gave up any sort of lead to the Browns. Cleveland’s early 7-0 lead didn’t last and that didn’t surprise anyone. The mood inside the stadium was still one of unwavering confidence that we would get the job done… For the most part I am not the type of person that boos opposing fans but seeing the few Cleveland Browns fans in the stadium, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for them and their fandom. I would be more inclined to hug a Browns fan instead of boo them, just because of all the pain and suffering they have endured throughout their lives… It was nice to see Michael Sinclair raise the 12 Flag. I thought Sinclair would be big enough of a name to raise the flag on alumni day (the home opener) the past couple of years but I guess not. His presence at the stadium today brought back great memories of him, Cortez Kennedy, and Chad Brown along the defensive line in the late 1990’s… One more home game next week before the long 8 month break before the 2016 preseason. Unless of course the Seahawks somehow get to host the NFC Championship Game for the third straight year.

What’s Next: The number one game in my #10for10 series will be published on Christmas Eve. Look out for my preview of next week’s game against the St. Louis Rams on Saturday morning. I hope all of you have a very Merry Christmas. Go Seahawks!

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/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

#10for10 Game #4: Beast Quake (Seahawks vs. Saints, 2010 NFC Wild-Card Playoff)

19 Nov

*To commemorate my 10th season as a Seahawks season ticket holder, I am telling the stories of the top 10 home games I have attended in the past 10 years*

Marshawn Lynch

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

There are many reasons why I love playoff football but one of those reasons is very unique to me. My birthday falls during the first part of January, and it has been proven possible that NFL playoff games can fall on my birthday, January 8th. It happened on my 15th birthday, a 27-20 Wild-Card loss to the St. Louis Rams. Six years later it happened again, this time on my 21st birthday. What better way to ring in my alcohol legality by enjoying Seahawks playoff football? I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

In Pete Carroll’s first season as head coach he led the Seahawks to a 7-9 record; a two game improvement from the previous season but due to an extremely weak division and a win over St. Louis in the final week of the season dubbed the “NFC West Championship,” the 2010 Seahawks became the first team in modern NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record.

10for10 79pride

Photo Credit: nfltouchdown.com

We were the 2010 NFC West champions which guaranteed us a home playoff game. Our opponent? The 11-5, defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

After a night of drinking with my then-girlfriend Lisa the night before, game day started a little on the slow side. We left her apartment in the U-District relatively early for a 1:30pm kickoff and stopped for a coffee at the international district Starbucks. We happened to run into my dad and my dad’s friend Steve at Starbucks and they graciously offered to take us out to the Pyramid Alehouse for lunch before the game to celebrate my birthday. I distinctly remember that we were seated and I immediately put my hungover head down on the table to rest. After assuring the waitress that I was in no mood for a beer, I ordered fish and chips and she then brought me two glasses of water. Lunch was not particularly noteworthy, however I did excuse myself twice to answer a couple of different phone calls from family and friends wishing me a happy 21st birthday. After lunch Lisa and I headed into the stadium.

One of the disadvantages of drinking in or around the stadium is that the bars and concession workers do not accept vertical driver’s licenses. Because of this fact Lisa had to order my first legal beer inside the stadium, something that still irks me to this day but it is what it is. We ran into my friend Ned at his seats on the lower level during pregame warmups and after a brief chat we headed up to my seats. I may not have had a more epic rally in my life. In a mere 5 hours I went from hungover to “ready to party it’s game time” mode. By kickoff I physically felt great!

The Seahawks offense was introduced as 67,000 fans waved their white rally towels; a scene that still gives me goosebumps when the Seahawks give away rally towels. Walter Jones raised the 12th Man flag and as kickoff approached I prayed the Seahawks could pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. I did not expect a win to be honest, but I knew that we always have a shot to win when we play at home. The start of the game went pretty much how fans across the country thought it would. The Saints took their opening drive down into red zone and settled for a field goal. After an interception by Matt Hasselbeck (which was deflected mind you), the Saints found the endzone when Drew Brees hit fullback Heath Evans for a 1-yard touchdown pass. We were not even 9 minutes into the game and the Saints already had a 10-0 lead. Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy pulled the entire defense together after this touchdown and told them how important it was for them to stick together. It was at this point that the momentum started to shift.

The next Seahawks possession took the ball down to the New Orleans 11-yard line. On 1st and 10 Matt Hasselbeck fired a play-action pass down the seam which was caught by tight end John Carlson for a touchdown. The score cut the Saints lead to 10-7 and the energy from the fans had fully returned. The Saints would not be denied on their next possession however, leading to a short touchdown run by Julius Jones which re-gave New Orleans a 10 point lead. The next Seattle drive featured a 39-yard fade from Hasselbeck to Cameron Morrah. On the very next play Hasselbeck found an uncovered Carlson in the endzone for his second touchdown of the game. The Saints led 17-14 but it was clear the Seahawks were going to be able to be competitive, so long as they could go blow-for-blow with the most explosive offense in the league. The way New Orleans was playing on defense, we in the stands believed it was going to be possible.

After a Seahawks field goal tied the game 17-17, the Seahawks got the ball back and were driving late in the first half. With 1:23 left in the half Hasselbeck connected with wide receiver Brandon Stokley for a 45-yard touchdown. The score gave the Seahawks their first lead of the game, 24-17, and Lisa and I along with everyone else around us went crazy. It felt as if  the common narrative in the stands was “we thought we could be competitive but actually take a lead??!! I cannot believe this is happening!”

The Seahawks got the ball to start the second half and immediately extended their lead. Hasselbeck connected with Mike Williams on yet another long bomb and the Seahawks suddenly had a 31-20 lead. After a mediocre regular season and dealing with a broken wrist, Matt Hasselbeck was having the game of his life. It was his finest hour in his final home game as a Seahawk. The scoring continued on our next drive as an Olindo Mare field goal extended our lead to 34-20.

A 34-20 lead in 2015 would probably mean the end of this game but unfortunately the Legion of Boom was two or three years late to this party. Two punts led to 10 New Orleans points and with 9:16 left in the game the Seahawks lead was down to 34-30. The Seahawks punted the ball back to the Saints with 5:36 left and the Saints had to drive 94 yards to score touchdown and take the lead back. I distinctly remember the game going into a television timeout and they played a pump up video on the video screens. It was a video that synced select Seahawks players and clips of the fans screaming to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Let Me Hear You Scream” (something that has since become a Seahawks playoff tradition for select playoff games). This fired up the 12th Man to a level that had not been seen or heard at any point during the game. With an ultra-motivated crowd the Saints did nothing on their next drive, punting the ball back to Seattle with 4:20 left to play. All the Seahawks need to do was score a touchdown to virtually seal the upset. What happened next earned this game a spot on my #10for10 list.

After running back Marshawn Lynch was stopped for no gain, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates called the now-famous play, “17 Power.” Hasselbeck snapped the ball, turned around and handed to Lynch who somehow escaped 4 tackles at the line of scrimmage, and two more in the second level of the New Orleans defense. Lynch was off to the races. After shedding a fifth tackle, he delivered the nastiest stiff arm I have ever seen to Tracy Porter which launched Porter five yards backwards. It was at this point I thought Lynch could go all the way. After shedding a seventh tackle he cut it back inside and he had a clear path to the endzone. During the entire run the stands were going crazy and after Lynch stiff armed Porter I held on to Lisa on my left while grabbing at the two guys sitting in front of me. As soon as Lynch cut it back inside I knew he was going to score. I did not see him cross the goal line and I did not see him do his now-famous “hold mah dick” because I ran up the stairs on the aisle, waving my arms in exhilaration. I high-fived and hugged probably about 20 or more people and upon running back down the stairs back to my seat Lisa had a look in her eyes and an expression on her face I will never forget; a look of “you are absolutely crazy.” It was later revealed that this touchdown run was recorded as seismic activity close by the stadium and will forever be known as “Beast Quake;” the defining run of Marshawn Lynch’s career. The score gave the Seahawks a 41-30 lead and with 3:22 left in the game we all now believed we would be victorious.

10for10 holdmahdick

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

The Saints were able to drive down the field and score which cut the lead to 41-36 but New Orleans could not successfully execute the following onside kick. The Seahawks ran out the clock and the 7-9 NFC West champion Seahawks had remarkably punched their ticket to the NFC Divisional playoffs. I remember the fans stuck around for a while after the game and as the Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” blared over the sound system on repeat, Lisa and I embraced for what felt like forever. To this day this is probably my most memorable birthday ever, and there is no question it rightfully deserves a place on this countdown.