Tag Archives: Troy Aikman

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

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

Seahawks/Bengals Preview

10 Oct
Photo Credit: nwsportsbeat.com

Photo Credit: nwsportsbeat.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals

Site: Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati, Ohio)

Kickoff: 10:00am

The onslaught of tough defensive lines continues for the Seahawks this week. The Seahawks head to the Queen City for the first time in 12 years on Sunday as they take on the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals. After winning last Monday the Seahawks are 2-2, tied for second place in the NFC West. The Bengals are 4-0 and they off to their best start since 2005. Cincinnati leads the all-time series with Seattle 10-9. In their last meeting back in 2011, the Seahawks started Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback but his dismal performance early in the game caused head coach Pete Carroll to substitute in an injured Tarvaris Jackson to finish it. The Seahawks never got going and the Bengals won easily by a score of 34-12. This will be the very first time Russell Wilson and the Legion of Boom get to go against the Bengals, but Cincinnati poses difficult matchup problems with the talent they possess especially on defense. This will be an extremely tough challenge for the Seahawks. This is what to watch for.

After the struggles on offense a week ago, a lot must change in both the passing game and running game in Cincinnati. It would be in our best interest to exclusively run a package of quick passes and roll-outs. Given the shaky play of our offensive line recently, the Seahawks will run the risk of putting quarterback Russell Wilson in harm’s way if he stays in the pocket and tries to go through his progressions. Do not be surprised if Jimmy Graham has another lackluster outing on Sunday. Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin should be Wilson’s go-to guys if we stick to short passes. I believed that we could beat Detroit without running back Marshawn Lynch. Although we won with Thomas Rawls carrying the load, this week we will be in deeper trouble offensively with Lynch once again inactive and Rawls getting the start. A successful day on the ground should be a minimum of 70 yards rushing yards out of Rawls.

The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Gone are the days of Carson Palmer throwing to Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Now it is Andy Dalton, Cincinnati’s 5th year quarterback, who has led the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first 4 seasons. The Bengals have a plethora of talent at the skill positions but the interesting thing will be to see how well the Seahawks defense matches up against these players. Number one wide receiver A.J. Green has averaged 104 receiving yards per game over his first 4 games and he will garner the attention of Richard Sherman. Seattle cornerback Cary Williams will line up across from Marvin Jones. Expect Dalton to throw in the direction of tight end Tyler Eifert a lot, especially in red zone opportunities. Eifert has averaged just over 5 targets per game but co-leads all Bengals receivers in touchdowns with three. The Bengals also sport a two-headed monster in the backfield with running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Hill and Bernard combined have averaged 115 rushing yards per game but they will be facing the best front seven they have seen all season long.

If there is one stat to note about the Bengals offense it is this. Dalton likes to take shots down the field at any given time so be on the lookout for him to test the Legion of Boom, especially in the first quarter. Cincinnati has outscored its opponents 35-6 in the first quarter so far this season. An early lead has been the norm so if the Seahawks can hold the Bengals to less than a touchdown in the first quarter it will bode well for the rest of the game.

Given the horrible play of the Seahawks offensive line recently, this is the kind of matchup that probably makes the mouths of the Bengals defensive linemen drool. Cincinnati is tied for 6th in the NFL in sacks and they sport two of the game’s better defensive players along their line. Geno Atkins is a sack master who does a great job penetrating the interior line of scrimmage. So far this season he already has 3 sacks. My main focus however is the man that will likely go up across from Seahawks right tackle Garry Gilliam. My X-Factor Player to Watch for Cincinnati this week is defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap leads all Bengals defenders in sacks with 3.5. He has recorded at least one sack in 3 of their first 4 games but has yet to face an offensive front as weak as Seattle’s. His tackle numbers are not high and after watching film, Dunlap plays his best on passing downs. If the defense does a good job forcing the Seahawks into third downs, Dunlap’s presence on the field will definitely be felt. It will be up to the Seahawks to keep the tempo up and move the ball successfully in early down situations in order to make Dunlap’s impact minimal or obsolete.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks announced on Friday they will wear white jerseys and College Navy pants. Cincinnati wore their orange alternate jerseys last week so chances are very good they will wear black jerseys and white pants this week… This week FOX has the Sunday single-header, and Seahawks/Bengals is the most attractive matchup on their lineup, so Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will have the call… This week’s referee is John Parry… This next point I feel obligated to discuss. Andy Dalton is the only redheaded starting quarterback in the league. Watching him speak in his press conferences this week I cannot help but be jealous of how his hair looks. My red hair looks good short but once it starts to curl it gets disproportionate and all over the place. Dalton has wonderful-looking straight red hair. I would trade my red hair for his red hair 11 times out of 10… This is the last Seahawks game I’ll watch at home until we play the Minnesota Vikings in week 13. Crazy.

Prediction: Any road game is tough especially at 10am pacific time, but I think this will be a very long day for the Seahawks on offense. Russell Wilson will be sacked 5 times and will throw two interceptions on tipped balls. Marvin Jones will catch one touchdown from Andy Dalton and Jeremy Hill will run for two more. The Seahawks will head home 2-3 and will be pressured to make offensive personnel changes before we take on Carolina in week 6.

Bengals 24, Seahawks 16

Packers/Seahawks Preview (NFC Championship Game)

17 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: (2) Green Bay Packers at (1) Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 12:05pm

In Pete Carroll’s first season as head coach, the Seahawks were one divisional playoff win over the Chicago Bears away from hosting the Green Bay Packers in the 2010 NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately we fell short but now four seasons later the Seahawks now have that matchup set. The Seahawks and Packers meet in Seattle in the 2014 NFC Championship Game Sunday afternoon. The winner will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIX. The loser goes home. Green Bay leads the all-time series with the Seahawks 10-7. The Packers have had Seattle’s number in the playoffs but the Seahawks have had the better luck as of late, winning the past two games including a 36-16 win over Green Bay earlier this season for NFL Kickoff 2014. This is what I believe must happen for the Seahawks to successfully defend their NFC Championship and advance to their second straight Super Bowl.

In their first meeting back in September running back Marshawn Lynch torched the Packers defense for 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns. This week could be more of the same. The Seahawks will once again attempt to establish the running game with Lynch in an effort to control the clock and the tempo of the game. A successful day running the ball I believe will lead to a Seahawks victory. In the passing game the Seahawks could benefit due to the fact that our number one weapon in our first meeting this season, Percy Harvin, is no longer on the team. Receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, as well as tight end Luke Willson combined for 5 catches for 23 yards back in week one. Given that these three guys were not primary features in our offensive game plan in that game, I believe this adds a wrinkle in our offense this week that the Packers have not seen. Quarterback Russell Wilson was willing to throw down the seam to Kearse and Willson against Carolina last week and I believe both could be primed for big games yet again this week.

The very first play of the 2013 NFC Championship Game was a Russell Wilson fumble recovered by the San Francisco 49ers. That play ultimately resulted with 3 San Francisco points. Three Colin Kaepernick turnovers in the second half ultimately doomed the 49ers. See where I am going here? The Seahawks number one priority in this championship game must be to protect the ball. I am fully confident that the Legion of Boom can force Green Bay turnovers so it is imperative that Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch among others hold onto the ball to prevent extra offensive opportunities for the Packers. We will not win if our offense turns the ball over multiple times because Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will take advantage of extra opportunities, especially short yardage opportunities. The Seahawks did not turn the ball over last week and we won by two scores. Another clean game and the Seahawks could be cruising to Arizona.

The number one storyline on the offensive side of the ball for the Green Bay Packers is the health of Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers played last week with a strained and possibly slight torn left calf, an injury that limited his mobility but not necessarily his ability to make plays. Immediately following last week’s game Rodgers came out and said that his calf was not feeling as good as in the days leading up to last Sunday’s game. It is likely that Rodgers’s mobility will once again be a question mark this week. The best way to rattle the ailing likely league MVP is to send pressure from all directions, whether this results in sacks or forces Rodgers to retreat from the pocket. Rodgers has been sacked 11 times by the Seahawks in his last two games in Seattle. Bruce Irvin and O’Brien Schofield are the two guys I expect to see on the field a lot this week. I will consider it a success if Irvin and Schofield can quickly penetrate the Packers offensive line and get to Rodgers at least one time each. If Green Bay struggles to protect Rodgers early on, it could be a very long game and the threat of Rodgers injuring his leg worse will absolutely increase.

With the majority of the attention on the Packers offense, the fact that Green Bay ranks 10th in the league in pass defense has flown under the radar. Four members of the Packers secondary rank among the six best tacklers on the team. Only one of those guys has recorded double-digit passes defensed, and that is why cornerback Tramon Williams is my X-Factor player to watch for the Packers this week. Williams has recorded 61 tackles this season with 13 passes defensed. Williams is also tied for the team lead in interceptions with 3. I expect to see Williams line up across from Jermaine Kearse for most of the game but do not expect to see him also go up again Ricardo Lockette and Kevin Norwood in dime packages.

Normally this last point would be worthy of a note in “Random Thoughts” but given the circumstances I feel that this is important to point out on itself. Seahawks fans are not used to early starts. In fact, this is the first time since CenturyLink Field opened that the Seahawks have hosted a game that starts at noon. To everyone attending Sunday’s game, BE IN YOUR SEATS AT LEAST 30-45 MINUTES PRIOR TO KICKOFF. When we go live to the nation on FOX at noon, I want to see 68,000 people all in their seats waving their rally towels as the Seahawks get ready to be introduced. Please plan accordingly.

Random Thoughts: The Packers will wear their classic white jersey/yellow pants combo this week. The Seahawks in all-blue per usual… Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have the call for FOX this week with Erin Andrews and Chris Myers patrolling the sidelines… This will be the first time the Seahawks host the earlier conference championship game. Both of Seattle’s previous trips to the NFC Championship Game kicked off at 3:30pm… Tony Corrente is the referee this week. Corrente previously officiated the Seahawks win over San Francisco on Thanksgiving… This is going to be one of the earliest wake-up calls for a Seahawks home game I have ever had. Definitely planning on being downtown with a drink in hand by 8am… As previously mentioned, the giveaway this week once again is rally towels… The National Anthem will be sung by 2006 American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee… The Seahawks announced Friday that the halftime show will be Seattle band Alice in Chains. That will be pretty cool but in my opinion not as cool as Macklemore last year… I would love to see former Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren raise the 12th Man flag this week, especially since it would come against his other former team, the Packers. I doubt it will happen but I would love to see it happen. There has been a lot of talk about letting Paul Allen raise the flag again. I personally think we should let somebody else do it. It would become super predictable for potential future NFC title games if Mr. Allen gets to raise the flag for every single one. My dark horse candidate to raise the flag is Randy Johnson… In the 24 or so hours following this game should we win, will be the shopping spree loading up on Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX merchandise… Why does this game feel like no big deal? Have we become spoiled? Is it because we are not playing the arch-rival 49ers again? Something just feels a little more relaxed about this year’s NFC Championship Game. My guess is that all changes once we all get down to CenturyLink Field.

Prediction: This game will be an instant classic and will see-saw until the very end. The Seahawks will get the scoring started with a field goal with the Packers adding a field goal of their own. A Seahawks second quarter touchdown pass to Luke Willson will give them a 10-3 lead with Green Bay tying the game just before halftime. There will be two more instances in the second half where the game gets tied up; 17-17 and 24-24 respectively. The Seahawks will take the clock down to the wire and Steven Hauschka will kick the biggest field goal in Seahawks history; a 42-yard field goal as time expires to send the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLIX.

Seahawks 27, Packers 24

Win or lose, check back late Sunday night for my NFC Championship review. Thanks for reading and enjoy the game. Go Seahawks!

Panthers/Seahawks Preview (NFC Divisional Playoff)

9 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: (4) Carolina Panthers at (1) Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 5:15pm

I love the city of Seattle in the month of January. Everyone has a pep in their step in preparation for the NFL Playoffs. After an eventful Wild-Card weekend we know which of the surviving teams gets the opportunity to play at CenturyLink Field in the NFC Divisional playoffs. That team is the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers take on the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks Saturday night. The winner advances to the NFC Championship Game next Sunday. The loser goes home. Last week the Panthers became the second team in modern NFL history to win their first playoff game after entering the postseason with a losing record. Including that win last week over the Arizona Cardinals, the Panthers enter this game 8-8-1. The Seahawks are 12-4 and are looking to make it back to their second straight NFC title game. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with Carolina 6-2. Their last meeting came earlier this season when the Seahawks beat the Panthers 13-9 in Charlotte. The Seahawks went on to win 8 of their next 9 games. The Seahawks are also 3-0 all-time against Carolina at CenturyLink Field, including a 34-14 win over the Jake Delhomme/Steve Smith led Panthers in the 2005 NFC Championship Game. There are a lot of storylines to take note of this week. Here is what I will be looking for.

In last season’s divisional playoff game against New Orleans, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. His effectiveness in the running game allowed the Seahawks to control the tempo of the game and there was never any significant threat of the Saints taking the game over. The same must happen this week. Seattle’s ability to run the ball is crucial this week since they are facing a defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher since October 30th (Week 9). If Lynch himself can run for at least 80 yards it will lead me to believe that we can control the clock and control the game. If the Panthers do a solid job stopping the Seahawks running game my number one guy to watch in the passing game is wide receiver Doug Baldwin. In three career games against Carolina he has 189 receiving yards and in his last two games against the Panthers, Baldwin led all Seahawks receivers in receiving yards. In addition to playing on the outside look for Baldwin to spend a lot of time in the slot this week, as quick throws and routes down the seam could be effective.

Just like how the running game is priority number one on offense, stopping the Panthers running game is priority number one on defense. This will be difficult, as Carolina will use feature back Jonathan Stewart and the threat of quarterback Cam Newton scrambling gives the Seahawks an additional element to focus on. The Seahawks have faced Carolina each of the last three seasons. In each of those games I thought there was a serious threat of Newton running wild if the going got tough for the Panthers offense. In each of those games Newton rushed for only 42, 38, and 24 yards respectively. In a playoff situation I think now is as good a time for the Panthers to let Newton run wild if the Seahawks play great defense. Newton’s build and strength will make it difficult to wrap him up and get him to the ground. If there is a player you must keep a close eye on when Carolina has the ball, it is Cam Newton.

Over the past few weeks the Carolina Panthers defense has been playing similarly to how they played all of last season, suffocating. If could be a difficult challenge for the Seahawks to get their offense going as the Panthers sport two tackling machines at the linebacker position in Thomas Davis and pro-bowler Luke Kuechly. Davis and Kuechly have combined for 253 total tackles so far this season, by far the best of any tandem in the NFL. The Panthers do come into this game a bit banged up however, as it was announced Wednesday that starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has been placed on injured reserve with a fractured foot. Lotulelei will not play for the rest of the season. As important as Carolina’s front seven is for the Seahawks to be aware of, I will be keeping a close eye on the play of the Panthers secondary. One of Carolina’s starting cornerbacks was inactive when these two teams met back in October so I have decided to put my X-Factor player to watch spotlight on that player, cornerback Bené Benwikere. Benwikere, a 5th round rookie from San Jose State, is a physically small player who has shown he can play big in his limited playing time this season. Benwikere has recorded 24 tackles in 11 games and has also picked off one pass and forced one fumble. Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse will both likely line up across from Benwikere throughout the game and since he did not play in the first meeting, I would not be surprised to see Russell Wilson throw in his direction multiple times in the first half.

This last point cannot be overlooked. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has never played a game at CenturyLink Field. Former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who played in the 2005 NFC Championship Game in Seattle, came out this week stating there is no way to prepare for just how loud the 12th Man is. It had been reported earlier in the week that the Panthers were having serious difficulties handling artificial simulated crowd noise during practice; a serious red flag. Over the past few years we have seen what kind of problems “Clink rookies” have had communicating in the huddle once they get lined up. Colin Kaepernick immediately comes to mind as his 49ers failed terribly at handling the noise in his first game in Seattle in 2012. This week the 12’s need to give everything they have to make life a living hell for Newton. I believe Newton has no idea what he is in for and it will be a harsh reality once kickoff rolls around Saturday night. The Panthers used no huddle for 22 plays last week against Arizona and they will likely use a similar dose of no huddle this week. To the 12th Man, stay loud all game long, even between plays. Our voices could be the difference between advancing to the NFC Championship Game and not.

Random Thoughts: The Panthers will wear all-white with the Seahawks wearing all-blue this week… Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch have the call for FOX this week. This is not a surprise given the potential ratings of the other NFC Divisional game (Dallas at Green Bay). It makes sense that FOX would send their number one crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to Lambeau for that game instead… The referee this week is Terry McAulay. McAulay officiated the Seahawks divisional round game last season and Super Bowl XLVIII… Saturday is going to be a very long day but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love primetime football. This is going to be a very special game… The giveaway this week is “We Are 12” rally towels. I love it. Towels should be the giveaway for all playoff games and I am glad to see the Seahawks are fixing their mistake from last season (they gave away 12th Man flags vs. the Saints)… Even though this is an evening kickoff it is the playoffs, and it should be expected that everyone be in their seats by the time pregame ceremonies start. I want to see a full stadium waving their towels as the Seahawks run out of the tunnel… I believe that there is an incredibly strong possibility that former Mariners pitcher and 2015 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Randy Johnson will raise the 12th Man flag this week. Don’t believe me? Check out this tweet… One of my favorite postseason traditions is when the Seahawks play Ozzy Osbourne’s “Let Me Hear You Scream” with a video encouraging fans to get loud as the television broadcast is coming back from a TV timeout. If they bring this back on Saturday night I am going to get super super pumped… This week marks the return of the Skittles in section 340. To everyone possibly sitting below me this is your warning to watch out. Streamers will also be making a re-appearance in these playoffs. Let’s make this playoff run a full on raging party in the stands… One win away from the NFC Championship and two victories away from Super Bowl XLIX. It’s on the tips of our fingers.

Prediction: The Panthers and Seahawks will keep this game close until the closing minutes of the first half. With the Seahawks holding a 7-3 lead, Richard Sherman will intercept a Cam Newton pass and Marshawn Lynch will score a touchdown with under one minute remaining in the half, giving the Seahawks a 14-3 halftime lead. The Seahawks will carry that momentum into the second half as they will take the opening kickoff and drive the length of the field, culminating in a Russell Wilson touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin, giving the Seahawks a 21-3 lead. Beast Mode will add one more score in garbage time and the Seahawks will cruise to the NFC Championship to face the Green Bay Packers.

Seahawks 28, Panthers 10

Due to a belated birthday celebration for myself with all of my friends after the game I will not have my game review published until Sunday night most likely. By then we will know who we will face in the NFC Championship Game should we win on Saturday. Check back Sunday night for my take on Saturday’s game. Go Seahawks!

49ers/Seahawks Preview

13 Dec
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

A little over two weeks ago we sat down with our families on Thanksgiving and enjoyed two things; a delicious turkey dinner and a Seahawks win over the San Francisco 49ers. On Sunday, with just under two weeks until Christmas, the Seahawks and 49ers square off for the second time in a three-game span, this time however at the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. When the schedule came out many thought that this game could determine who wins the NFC West. Instead the Seahawks currently sit at 9-4 and are still alive for the division title. The 49ers are 7-6 and a loss to the Seahawks this week will all but mathematically eliminate them from playoff contention. Since we played San Francisco only a handful of days ago, nothing should be new from a game-planning perspective. Nevertheless, here are some brief points of emphasis I will be watching for in this game.

Two weeks ago in Santa Clara the Seahawks racked up 157 total rushing yards, 104 of them coming from Marshawn Lynch. This week I am confident that a 100 yard day from Lynch will all but assure a Seahawks win. This week I am looking to see how involved Robert Turbin and Russell Wilson will be on the ground. I do not expect to see Wilson scramble as often as he has the past couple of weeks. A steady mix of Lynch and Turbin will be the Seahawks go-to on early downs this week. In the passing game it would not be a surprise to see Russell Wilson throw deep early in the game to test the San Francisco secondary. That may be it for the deep ball however, as I think short passes and controlling the clock may be Seattle’s strategy after holding the ball for nearly 42 minutes last week. Most importantly I do not want to see the Seahawks try to get fancy on offense. We played a solid offensive game in San Francisco two weeks ago and it was effective. There is no reason to fix something that is not broken for this game.

On the defensive side of the ball I am curious to see how the first San Francisco offensive possession plays out. I believe how the Seahawks defense plays on that first series will determine how the rest of the game will play out. Simply put there are three different scenarios I could see playing out. If the Seahawks can stop San Francisco for a three-and-out, this game could get ugly very quickly in favor of Seattle. If the 49ers can drive down the field but fail to put points on the board, they may be able to keep it close for the first part of the game. If the 49ers can put together a successful first drive that results in points, this could be a close game throughout. It will be up to the enforcers at each level of our defense to make sure that the 49ers come away empty handed. I am looking at Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner, and Kam Chancellor to have monster games making tackles. I would also not be surprised to see Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell make an impact forcing turnovers as well.

In our last game against the 49ers I put a focus on the San Francisco defense. This week I am choosing to focus on the offensive side of the ball. In his last 5 games played in Seattle, 49ers running back Frank Gore has averaged only 36 rushing yards per game. He has not run for more than 30 yards at CenturyLink Field since 2011. It is because of these numbers that I am not worried about Gore. If our game two weeks ago is any indication, I am also not worried about the arm of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The only way I can see the 49ers putting points on the board is on the legs of Kaepernick. For the second straight week I put my X-Factor focus on the opposing quarterback; Colin Kaepernick is my X-Factor player to watch for San Francisco. In the NFC Championship game last January, Kaepernick put the game in his own hands as he ran for 130 yards. This season we have not seen much of Kaepernick on the ground, as he has been more patient behind the line of scrimmage. His three most productive games running the ball all came way back in September. This week the 49ers will be in trouble if Kaepernick tries to stay in the pocket and read his progressions. If I were 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, I would give Kaepernick the green light to take off if he does not like his first read. A solid day on the ground for #7 is the only way I see the 49ers staying competitive in this game.

One other thing that cannot happen this week is for the Seahawks to overlook this 49ers team. I know the Seahawks can and should win this game but the worst thing that could happen is to get overconfident and play as if a win is a guarantee. We are smarter than that. I will be a bit worried and angry if we play cocky, at least to start off when the game is close. Wrap this win up, then move on to next week’s game against the Cardinals.

Random Thoughts: I guarantee that I will not mess up the uniform combinations for either team this week. The Seahawks will go with their navy/navy home look. The 49ers will wear their classic look pairing white jerseys with gold pants… For the second straight week the Seahawks are featured as “America’s Game of the Week” on FOX. Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Erin Andrews have the call once again… Ed Hochuli will officiate his second Seahawks game of 2014 this week. Ed previously called the Seahawks week 9 win over the Oakland Raiders… I love going to late season home games when it is supposed to be sunny. They’re calling for partly cloudy with temperatures in the high 40’s. Should be plenty comfortable… A reminder to everyone going to the game that kickoff is scheduled for 1:25pm. Allow yourselves enough time to get inside the stadium by kickoff… The giveaway this week is ribbons raising Ebola awareness. I understand that this Ebola is a serious matter but couldn’t the Seahawks have figured out a different (better) giveaway? There have been almost no good giveaways at the gates this season. That is pretty disappointing… The halftime show this week is high school marching bands featuring my old high school, Newport High School. Here’s a funny story. 9 years ago I participated in a Seahawks halftime show with the Newport marching band. We were all given blue Seahawks wristbands which my friends and I later learned gave us access to all parts of the stadium. After we performed at halftime we snuck into the game and watched about 5 minutes of the 3rd quarter from the club level. We were then tattled on when we caught up with the band (after we found out they were leaving without us). We failed the “assignment” and I would up with an A- in band that quarter. Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was totally worth it in my opinion. It is kind of sad to think this is likely the final Seahawks game against the 49ers with Jim Harbaugh as their head coach. As much as the 12th Man hates Harbaugh, I will kind of miss him for the sole reason that this potentially marks the beginning of the end of our rivalry with the San Francisco 49ers, which has been quality entertainment for the past 4 seasons.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: The Seahawks are 9-4 and with the Arizona Cardinals win over the St. Louis Rams on Thursday we are currently 1 ½ games behind Arizona for the division lead. A Seahawks win will get us back to within one game of the division lead however we will be locked into the #5 seed for at least another week. Although a win would give us 10 on the season, we cannot clinch a playoff berth after this week. A Green Bay Packers loss to the Buffalo Bills can clear the final road block for the Seahawks to claim home field advantage (if Seattle wins out). Here are this week’s other games with NFC playoff implications. Teams to note are bolded.

Green Bay (10-3) at Buffalo (7-6)

Minnesota (6-7) at Detroit (9-4)

Dallas (9-4) at Philadelphia (9-4)

Prediction: Let me be frank. The Seahawks will dominate this game in all phases from start to finish. The Seahawks will take a comfortable 17-3 lead into halftime and the pick barrage will begin in the second half. Colin Kaepernick will throw 4 interceptions, 3 coming in the second half. Byron Maxwell will have two of those interceptions. Richard Sherman and Tharold Simon will add the other two. The Seahawks will improve to 10-4 and will get ready for easily their biggest game of the season in Arizona next week.

Seahawks 27, 49ers 6

Check back late Sunday night/early Monday morning for my 49ers game review. Go Seahawks!