The Seahawks Have A Huge Game Against The Eagles This Sunday Night

Sometimes, football makes no sense.  Sometimes, you can have all the facts and figures and stats and Vegas all screaming in your face that a certain team is going to win.  And sometimes that means something!  New England at home against the Miami Dolphins?  Of course, pick New England, they’re obviously going to win.  And yet, sometimes, your gut is just as good an arbiter of picking football games.

I do this weekly pick ’em contest with my friends where we just pick the winners of all the games (no spreads).  Last night, the Redskins were in Dallas to play the Cowboys, who had been on a 3-game losing streak and just looked GOD FUCKING AWFUL since Ezekiel Elliott was suspended, and some of their offensive linemen got banged up.  Dak Prescott looked totally lost and inept, the running game never got going, and the offense as a whole just looked slow and ordinary.

Whereas the Redskins, sure, they’re as injured as any team in the league, but they’ve been frisky in just about every game!  Hell, they came into Seattle at their MOST decimated and walked away victorious!  They played tough against the best the NFC has to offer – and their schedule has been brutal to boot – so you could say the Redskins are battle tested.

And even though the betting public (the rubes, as it were) loves nothing more than to slap their money down on America’s Team, this line swung heavily to Washington’s favor.  On paper, it seemed like a no brainer.  Even in my pick ’em league, it was heavily on Washington’s side.  And, truth be told, I should’ve been right there with ’em.

But, my gut said Dallas.  Against all rhyme or reason, my gut thought that MAYBE they’d finally figure out how to play without their star running back.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have predicted a 24-point Cowboys blowout, but the gut wants what the gut wants.

This Sunday Night, as noted in the title, the Seahawks host the Eagles.  It’s our final primetime game of the regular season, unless some games get moved around, which seems unlikely.  It’s also about as big a game as the Seahawks have played in quite some time.

The Seahawks are on a 2-game home losing streak, which sounds insane, but there it is.  The Eagles are 10-1 and in first place in the entire NFL; the Seahawks are 7-4 and in seventh place in the NFC.  Depending on where you look, the Eagles are 5-6 point favorites.  In Seattle.  Where the 12’s reside and the dead fish fly.

Some of the reasons why that’s the case include the fact that the Eagles are remarkably healthy up and down their roster; the Seahawks are missing countless starters and stars.  The Eagles have looked steady and dominant in their games; the Seahawks have looked inconsistent and sloppy.  Some will point out that the Eagles have a pretty weak schedule – at least as weak as Seattle’s – but is that true?

The Eagles’ only loss was against the Chiefs, when they were the best team in football for the first month of the season.  They beat the Redskins twice; the Seahawks lost to them at home.  The Eagles killed the 49ers; the Seahawks have struggled to beat them twice.  The Eagles destroyed the Cardinals; the Seahawks scratched and clawed to a close victory.  The Eagles also went on the road and beat the Panthers and Chargers, who are currently two of the hottest teams in the NFL.  What are Seattle’s impressive wins?  A game we almost blew to the Rams in the final seconds?  A shootout at home against the Texans when they still had Deshaun Watson and we still had the entire Legion of Boom?

I’m sorry, but anyone trying to put pen to paper words to website making the argument that these two teams are evenly matched – or CLOSE to evenly matched – is a homer of the highest order.

The Eagles are flat out better in every single phase of the game, period.

They have better, more consistent quarterback play; it doesn’t take Carson Wentz three quarters before he finally gets hot!  He’s hot from the starting gun!  (and I should know, he’s on my keeper league fantasy team).  They have a defense that generates better pressure and flies to the ball.  They’re better in yards allowed per game (6th vs. 8th), points allowed per game (3rd vs. 9th), and rushing yards per game (1st vs. 9th).  The only statistical category they trail the Seahawks is in passing yards per game (10th vs. 17th), but those numbers were largely built on having a healthy Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor.  And, don’t forget the Eagles’ rushing offense; third in the league in yards per attempt.  The Seahawks?  23rd.  And, I’m sure it’s dead last when you take quarterback scrambles out of the equation.

The Eagles are better and more disciplined.  So, why do I get the feeling that the Seahawks are going to win this?

I dunno.  My gut!  It’s the only rational excuse!

Oh sure, you can point to the Seahawks being at home, but I just told you how we’re on a 2-game losing streak at home!  You can point to the Seahawks’ record in night games, but they JUST lost on Monday Night Football to the Atlanta Falcons, and the Seahawks have the best all-time record on MNF!  You can point to how it seems like the Seahawks turn it up a notch when the calendar flips to December, but last year they were 2-2, the year before they were 3-1, and in their championship season of 2013 they were 3-2!  They don’t ALWAYS dominate the month of December, and besides that, even if they did, that has no bearing whatsoever on what’s going to happen THIS December.

So, what gives?  Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you.  I don’t know how to spin this in a way that makes it sound logical that the Seahawks should win on Sunday.  I will say that this is a team Russell Wilson SHOULD be able to pass the ball on.  They don’t get a ton of interceptions, and while the pressure should be there, they don’t get home as much as you’d think (especially when you factor in how the Eagles are constantly ahead in the fourth quarter, with opposing teams passing to try to catch up; shouldn’t they be higher than 18th in sacks?).  Also, we’re going into this game with the best offensive line formation we’ve had in YEARS.  Duane Brown-Luke Joeckel-Justin Britt-Ethan Pocic-Germain Ifedi.  We just got through a whole entire game without Wilson taking a sack.  Granted, it was the 49ers, but still.  It feels like the offense has a nice little rhythm, with Wilson leading the charge.  There’s also the chance that Mike Davis comes back.  If that’s the case, you could make an argument that the running game could be slightly improved.

Defensively, Bobby Wagner is playing like a DPOY.  The D-Line should be pumped up for this one.  And, I just wonder if this is an offense that our defense could handle.  Wentz strikes not just me as a Ben Roethlisberger type; someone always looking for the deep shot down field.  He’s not a Philip Rivers type, I’ll tell you that!  Philip Rivers is our G.D. kryptonite.  I just don’t know if Wentz has the patience and awareness to dink and dunk his way down field.

The key is going to be how well we cover their guys.  Zach Ertz is one of the best tight ends in the league, and I could see him torching us if we consistently leave K.J. Wright on him.  Alshon Jeffery is past his prime, but he has made his share of plays this year; I could easily see him jumping over Jeremy Lane for a big gainer up the sideline.  They also have a nice collection of running backs who could conceivably carve us up, but I’m less concerned about that.  I really need to see our secondary do its job and allow the front seven a chance to get to Wentz.

My gut also tells me that I need Wentz to have a good game so I can win my fantasy matchup this week and play my way into the better playoff bracket, so OF COURSE the Seahawks are going to eat him alive to the tune of 3 picks and a fumble.  But, that’s neither here nor there.

At this point, I’m even questioning my gut, because it sounds like a lot of other peoples’ guts are telling them something similar.  There’s something in the air, and it’s giving a lot of hunches to a lot of prognosticators out there to make the Seahawks their “upset special”.  When I hear things like that, I start to think about going the other way.  It’s like my gut’s gut is telling me to abandon this line of thinking!

Because I know this Seahawks team!  They have tons of penalties at the worst possible times!  On defense, these penalties prolong drives, turning punts into touchdowns.  On offense, we’re consistently behind the sticks!  Promising drives turning into drivel.  Then, there’s First Quarter Russ, who is consistently off-target and now throws mind-boggling interceptions into good coverage?

To win this game comfortably, the Seahawks will need to play a near-flawless game.  They’ll need to score more touchdowns than field goals, and they’ll need to score these touchdowns starting in the FIRST quarter!  Now, like I said, I know this team, so I know the likelihood of that happening is pretty remote.  It happened against Denver in the Super Bowl, and maybe 2-3 other times in this Pete Carroll run.

What’s MORE likely is that the Seahawks will fall behind early, scramble to catch up, and if they’re going to win, they’re going to have to do it with some late-game heroics.  That’s CERTAINLY more likely to happen than the Seahawks being good from the jump and enjoying a comfortable victory.  But, is it more likely than the Seahawks finding a way to lose it late?  Or, worse, getting blown out at home by the consensus Best Team In Football?

I don’t think it is.

I’ve been waffling back and forth on this one all week (indeed, even since the start of this post!), and I might continue waffling on it up until gametime, but right now, I gotta say I see an Eagles victory.

NO WAIT!  Seahawks.

NO … no, hold on.  Let me think about it some more.

Shit.

The Seahawks Played A Fourth Pre-Season Game and I Drafted A Fantasy Football Team

What do you want from me?  It was a meaningless fourth pre-season game where most of the starters didn’t even play a single snap.  The Seahawks beat the Raiders 17-13 thanks to a final TD-drive by Austin Davis in the fourth quarter against scrubs.  The backup quarterback controversy is in full effect, and I couldn’t care less.

On top of that, I didn’t even get to see the vast majority of it, because my primary fantasy football league held its draft at the same time.  So, instead of pouring over the stats from the game, and speculating on who will get cut and who might get traded (Kearse, Lane, Collins?), I’m going to tell you about my fantasy football draft.

I know no one gives a shit about anyone else’s fantasy football team but their own, but this is my blog and I’ll rosterbate if I want to!

For starters, you should know that it’s a 2-keeper league that’s set up to expand to a 3-keeper league in 2018.  Meaning, we have to keep 2 players from last year’s roster, with the knowledge going into this draft that we’ll have to keep 3 players next year.

Next up, you should know that it’s a 10-team league, head-to-head, with a 6-team playoff system (top 2 teams get first round BYEs).  The bottom four teams play in a Consolation Bracket whereupon the winner of said bracket gets to draft first overall, and the rest of the draft order goes backwards from there.  Since I lost in the championship of the Consolation Bracket, I drafted second overall.

As you might surmise, my 2016 team wasn’t very good.  I spent the entire year obsessing over the simple fact of just getting two quality keepers on my team, because my 2015 team was just as bad.  It’s been a vicious cycle of mediocrity for many years now.  Instead of investing in my future, by drafting the likes of Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson in their rookie seasons, I’ve been forging my own path full of veterans with disasterous results.  So, last year, I said, “NO MORE!”  And yet, somehow the best I could muster was keeping Carson Wentz and Brandin Cooks.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Wentz.  I mostly like him because people in the know, scouts and whatnot, keep telling me he’s going to be one of the good ones.  I read stories about how he’s a football junkie and is working out all the time and so on and so forth and it gives me hope that maybe in a year or two he’ll be Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson, and that I’ll have gotten in on the ground floor of a keeper I can enjoy for many years to come!

As for Cooks, he was the best of the rest on my roster last year.  I like him a lot too, especially because he was traded to New England, and hearing stories about him and Brady hitting it off on the practice field gave me cause to jump for joy.

But, you know, it’s not like we’re talking about Aaron Rodgers and LeVeon Bell here.  These aren’t superstars, and there are very valid concerns about them producing in the future.

Also, you should know about our league:  it’s a 2-QB system.  Gameday rosters look like this:  QB, QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, TE, RB/WR/TE Flex, K, DEF, with 5 bench spots.  It’s a PPR league (1 point per reception), with any and all TDs worth 6 points, and it heavily skews in favor of the quarterback (unlike standard leagues, where top RBs are king, in our league, if you don’t have two good QBs, you might as well fucking kill yourself).  So, in that sense, it’s like the real NFL, except we doubled up on QBs per team because it’s only a 10-team league and it’s insane to have viable starting QBs on the waiver wire during BYE weeks.

So, that sets the stage.  Long story short:  my keepers are kinda sucky, I’m drafting #2 overall, and I need to be in a position to keep 3 guys next year.

Now, a little wrinkle!  I worked out a pre-draft trade with the guy who kept Ezekiel Elliott!  What with his 6-game suspension looming to start the season, and my friend ostensibly holding out hope for a championship this year, he accepted a straight-up swap of Cooks for Elliott.  With Julian Edelman going on IR in subsequent days, it looked like he was going to get a lot more value out of the deal.  However, with it appearing like Elliott might shake this whole suspension thing (from 6 games to 0, thanks to the NFL’s bungling), I might have the steal of the draft on my hands!

Of course, going forward, I have to worry about Elliott’s character concerns, while Cooks is by all accounts a model citizen on a championship team, but that’s neither here nor there.

So, instead of Wentz & Cooks, it’s Wentz & Elliott.  I can work with that!

I don’t want to list out everyone else’s keepers, so hopefully you’ll glean from context who was kept (lots of QBs, most of the tip-top skill-position players).  Going into the first two picks, I surmised the best two players available (for our particular league and no one else’s) were LeVeon Bell and Dak Prescott (the guy who had Bell last year opted to keep his stud QBs; he was obviously league champion).  I was pretty sure the #1 pick overall was going to take a QB, and I was pretty sure that QB was going to be Dak.  But, the day of the draft, he texted me that he was going with Marcus Mariota, another young, up-and-coming fantasy points hog.

That left me with the choice of Bell or Dak.  Understanding that there really weren’t any other young stud QBs left in the draft, only veterans and injury risks (Roethlisberger, Rivers, Stafford, Eli, Palmer, Cutler, and so on and so forth), I went with Dak.  I think he’s a superstar in the making and I’m not buying for one second this notion of a sophomore slump.  His TD/INT ratio this year might not be as crazy as last year, but I think we’ll see a spike in his overall TDs and yards thrown to MORE than make up for the regression.

As we snaked our way through the next round and a half, it dawned upon me that a lot of those veteran/injury risk QBs I listed above were flying off the board, to my shock and awe.  My hope, heading into this draft, was to get Dak and wrap around at pick 19 and snag Roethlisberger.  That way, I could bench Wentz and save him for when Roethlisberger ultimately gets injured (and hope that by that time Wentz would have asserted himself as a full-fledged fantasy starter in this league).  No such luck.  In fact, as the draft would shake out, I was completely and totally unable to pick up a backup QB.

At the tail end of the second round, after it was clear I wouldn’t get my rock of a backup QB, I was hoping to land Dez Bryant and have the Dallas Cowboys trifecta, but he was snagged 3 picks before me.  Michael Thomas, from New Orleans, fell WAY farther than I would’ve thought (I’m VERY high on Thomas this year and going forward), but was taken 2 picks before me.  There were a lot of options left, but I went with Leonard Fournette, in the hopes that he’ll become Ezekiel Elliott 2.0 (minus the domestic abuse charges).  The fact that he plays for the Jags scares me, as does the fact that he’s a rookie with a terrible QB in front of him, so much so that I might not even start him in Week 1 (such is my mania).  But, the instant he gets me a 20-point game for my bench, he’ll be locked into my starting lineup going forward.

I wrapped around and took Gronk in the third round.  A sure thing from a fantasy persepctive, and one of the very biggest question-marks from an injury perspective.  Either way, there weren’t a lot of good receivers left, so I took Best Player Available.

At this point, my team is Wentz, Dak, Elliott, Fournette, and Gronk.  Still no actual wide receivers.

By the time the draft got back to me, a lot more good receivers went off the board, so in keeping with my Best Player Available strategy, I took Carlos Hyde, RB of the 49ers.  I think he’s going to have a monster year as the best offensive weapon on that team.  Wrapping around, still without an amazing receiver option, I took Lamar Miller of the Texans.  So, now I’ve got 2 QBs, 4 RBs, 0 WRs, and 1 TE.

At my next pick, I knew I had to take a receiver, regardless of what was left out there.  For me, it came down to Emmanuel Sanders of DEN and Jamison Crowder of WAS.  Thankfully, the decision was made for me by the guy drafting right before me as he took Sanders.  Crowder it was.  Wrapping around, I was sure I was going to take Stefon Diggs of the Vikings, and ultimately this might be the pick I end up regretting the most.  See, with Yahoo’s rankings (yeah, we play on Yahoo, sue us), I saw an opportunity for another young, up-and-coming running back in Derrick Henry (the way the rankings were set, I doubt he would’ve been there for me nearly 20 picks later).  I had him all last year, and all last year he was decidedly behind DeMarco Murray on the depth chart.  I waited ALL YEAR for Murray to get hurt, and not only did he stay healthy, but he was in the top 3 of all backs in rushing attempts!  And this was in spite of the fact that whenever Henry did get the ball, he looked really fucking good (and, of course, he was a high draft pick for the Titans last year).

So, I’m rolling the dice on Year 2 of Derrick Henry.  If Murray gets injured, I’ve got a Top 5 running back to throw onto the pile (or use as trade bait for a stud receiver).  But, if Murray plays like he did last year, then I’ll have missed out on Diggs, or any number of receivers selected after him.  Roster status:  2 QBs, 5 RBs, 1 WR, 1 TE.

With my next two picks, I went receiver happy to compensate.  Unfortunately, by this time, the cupboards were pretty bare.  One of my new lines of thinking on receivers is:  taking the best ones from bad teams.  There are a couple of Browns receivers I really like, the Chargers guys are interesting, but I went with Pierre Garcon of the 49ers.  Yeah, he’s getting up there, but have you SEEN their depth chart?  And, I know, Brian Hoyer is their QB, but he’s still going to complete SOME passes, and he’s going to have to throw them to SOMEONE.  Garcon is most likely to get the lion’s share of the targets and touches that don’t go to Carlos Hyde (yes, I know, having not one but two 49ers on my team is just asking for trouble).  If he stays healthy, he could be a nice little steal for me.  Then, I wrapped around and picked up Willie Snead.  I’ve always liked him as a #2 option in New Orleans, but he seems to have REALLY fallen out of favor this pre-season (at least, according to reports), as the Saints have Michael Thomas as their clear #1, and the newly-signed Ted Ginn as a guy competing for #2 reps.  I dunno, I’ve always thought Sneed had good ball skills in the red zone, so I went with him over Ginn (secretly hoping I could snag Ginn the next time the draft got back to me, where I could keep the best one and waive the loser, but it wasn’t to be).

At that point, I had 2 QBs, 5 RBs, 3 WRs, and 1 TE.  I could officially field a full offense plus a flex spot, plus have enough RBs left over to compensate for a possible Elliott suspension.  I had to go get a Defense the next time up, because all the best ones were flying off the board.

I wanted Houston’s defense really bad, but he went 5 spots ahead of me, so I settled on Minnesota’s D.  We’ll see.  On the wrap-around, I picked up Eric Decker of the Titans.  He’s a touchdown machine, but he’s older and coming off injury, so it wouldn’t shock me if he isn’t long for my team.

Heading into the last two picks of the draft, a few Kickers had already been taken, but Stephen Gostkowski was still there for me so I somehow have New England’s kicker free of charge.  With my final pick, I took Rishard Matthews (a guy my friend wanted, but he accidentally took Jordan Matthews instead, a few picks before me).  I think Rishard is awfully underrated as a guy who had a pretty solid season for the Titans last year.  Neither he, nor Decker, figure to start for me out of the gate.  But, I’ll monitor both of them and keep the guy who’s more reliable.

Final Roster looks like this:

  • QB – Dak Prescott
  • QB – Carson Wentz
  • RB – Ezekiel Elliott
  • RB – Carlos Hyde
  • WR – Jamison Crowder
  • WR – Pierre Garcon
  • TE – Rob Gronkowski
  • Flex – (RB) Lamar Miller
  • K – Stephen Gostkowski
  • DEF – Minnesota

With my bench looking like this:

  • RB – Leonard Fournette
  • RB – Derrick Henry
  • WR – Willie Sneed
  • WR – Eric Decker
  • WR – Rishard Matthews

Look, I don’t love it, all right!  I’m not boasting here!  I love my running back situation, of course, but I have far-and-away the worst set of wide receivers in the entire league.  I’ve got a top-flight kicker, a good-enough defense, and the best tight end in the game (when healthy).  As for my quarterbacks, they’re young.  One was great last year (Dak), one got a lot of experience and took his lumps (Wentz).  The picking’s are pretty slim on the waiver wire, as far as QBs are concerned.  Most of the rookies are there, alongside a few of the very worst starters this league has to offer.  So, if Wentz can’t get it going early, I might be stuck with a Hoyer or a Kizer.

On the plus side, I think regardless of what happens, I should have 3 viable keepers heading into 2018, and that’s all I can really ask for.  If Wentz pans out, I’ll keep my two QBs and Elliott.  If Wentz doesn’t look good, or if Fournette really busts out, I might go with Dak and the two RBs.

Here goes nothing.

Should The Seahawks Stop Punting On Backup Quarterback Already?

There was some Tweet saying that John Schneider was at Texas Tech’s Pro Day, ostensibly to look at their quarterback who’s coming out in this year’s draft (but, I would think, more likely to look at other players).  With the Seahawks, there’s been a lot of non-stories being spread around (more per capita than the average team, if I have anything to say about it), between Beastmode forcing a trade to the Raiders, and the Seahawks supposedly soliciting offers to trade away Richard Sherman; it’s all a bunch of media-created nonsense to generate clicks, pageviews, and hours of sports radio content.

YOU PEOPLE ARE SHAMELESS HUMPS!

Anyway, now there’s that Tweet, and it makes it sound like the Seahawks are in the market for selecting a quarterback high in the draft, with the intended effect of Seahawks fans speculating on Russell Wilson’s future with the team.

Obviously, the Seahawks aren’t getting rid of Russell Wilson, so let’s just put that to bed right now.  It’s probably like I said above, there’s probably some low-rated draft prospect on Texas Tech the Seahawks are getting a closer look at, nothing more.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder:  SHOULD the Seahawks look to fill their backup quarterback role with someone other than an undrafted rookie who recently was involved in a drunken driving collision and an arrest?  Even if Trevone Boykin was a model citizen, does it make sense to run him out there again as our #2?

2016 should’ve opened up PLENTY of eyes in that Seahawks organization with all that went down.  Specifically, the quality of the offensive line, and the byproduct of Russell Wilson being hobbled for more than half the season.  Hey, fancy that, the kid’s actually human!  (sort of)  Russell Wilson has ankles rolled up on and knees bending the wrong way just like the rest of us!  (that made more sense in my head)  I’m not saying he’s going to be the next Ben Roethlisberger, who’s injured every year without fail, but I will say a couple things:

  1. After 4 full seasons where Wilson never missed even a practice rep, he had something of a year from hell and we got to see what this offense looks like with him at 50% or worse; so just imagine what it would look like with him totally sidelined.
  2. When you start sustaining injuries like that to your knees and ankles, you don’t see your foot speed increase over time.  You tend to get a lot slower as you age; that shit adds up!  At some point, Wilson’s legs will be as worthless as Peyton Manning’s, and at that time, will he still be as effective a leader of this offense?

Before 2016, we didn’t have to worry about this shit, because we had Tarvaris Jackson and we all agreed that he was the kind of quality backup this team needed in the event where Wilson might go down.  But, he was always coming back on 1-year deals (when the rest of the league turned its collective backs to him), and the Seahawks really needed something more permanent in its backup.  Someone who could grow with Wilson, build value in the pre-season, and maybe generate draft picks in trade should he turn into a Jimmy Garoppolo-type.  More than anything, we need someone comfortable in our system and someone with actual NFL talent, for when disaster does strike (and believe you me, it will strike, eventually).

Trevone Boykin is almost certainly not that guy.  At no point would I have ever felt comfortable with him leading this team last year, and I highly doubt he’s going to make some magical jump between Year 1 and Year 2.  He’s a third stringer at best, and should probably be nothing more than camp fodder before he gives up the ghost and signs with the CFL.  And I’m NOT saying that just because he got arrested recently (though, that certainly doesn’t help).  It’s like what Joe Thomas was saying about Colin Kaepernick:  NFL teams don’t want any sort of distraction coming from their backup quarterbacks (and, make no mistake, Kaepernick IS a backup quarterback).

Speaking of, there’s been a lot of chatter among Seahawks fans saying they desperately want the team to sign Kaep to be Wilson’s backup.  I dunno.  I guess I understand the argument – Wilson is a mobile quarterback; Kaepernick’s mobility is as good as it gets – but they’re really two VERY different players.  As the Seahawks start transitioning towards a precision-passing attack – mostly to compensate for a crappy O-Line, but also to help enhance Wilson’s pocket-passing game – Kaepernick has terrible timing, and a big ol’ wind-up in his throws.  Granted, he throws really fucking hard, but so does Jay Cutler, and I don’t see people clamoring for the Seahawks to sign him!  Maybe, if Wilson got hurt and Kaepernick went in, as long as the Seahawks shifted the offense back to one of a heavy rushing load, with lots and lots of zone read, I’d be okay with it.

Like I said, I dunno.  I’ve been so conditioned to hate the 49ers for so long, it’s hard to flip that script and start liking or wanting a guy like Kaepernick on my team.  There’s also the legitimate concern that he’s been VERY terrible for a while now, but is it a chicken/egg thing?  Like, yeah, he’s been terrible, but so has the entire 49ers organization from the top down.  Is he terrible because everyone around him is terrible?  I mean, it’s really a helluva regression from where he was, at one point considered one of the league’s very best young quarterbacks.  It can’t ALL be due to the league just figuring him out and Jim Harbaugh leaving, can it?

I’ll just say this and let it be done:  I’m ready to move on from Trevone Boykin.  I’m ready for a semi-competent backup, because I truly fear for Russell Wilson’s safety behind this O-Line.  If that means Kaepernick, or that Texas Tech quarterback, or someone else I haven’t mentioned today, I’m all for it.

Seahawks Death Week: Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

We were pretty spoiled the last few months, with the greatest local football season in recent memory.  When you factor in the Seahawks winning their division and getting into the second week of the playoffs, combined with the Huskies winning the Pac-12 for the first time in forever and making the College Football Playoffs for the first time PERIOD, it’s been pretty great talking about football the last few months.  And, the best part is we all get to look forward to next year, with the potential for both teams to be even BETTER!

But now, today, January 20, 2016, there’s no more football.  Alabama got nipped by Clemson (leaving us all to wonder what if, had Clemson been the 4-seed and the Huskies the 3-seed) and the conference championship games this weekend feature the nausea-inducing triad of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger.  Ultimately, when Atlanta gets beaten, I’ll have yet another Super Bowl with no one to root for, because I fucking hate Green Bay, New England, and Pittsburgh.  Boycott the Super Bowl you say?  Lady Gaga is the halftime performer anyway, so it’s not like I’ll be missing all that much?  I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s on the table.

Even worse, with no professional basketball in Seattle right now (and, for that matter, no professional hockey, but that’s neither here nor there), all I’m left with are the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team, embroiled in what’s looking like Romar’s worst season since he was hired, with the likelihood that he’ll be fired by season’s end, depriving us of what’s looking like a potentially world-beating 2017 recruiting class.  That’s a post for another day, but I’m looking at the rest of this regular season and I don’t see more than 2 wins for the Huskies!  What a collosal shitshow.

Just because it’s college basketball season, though, I wouldn’t expect an influx of posts on the Huskies.  There might be a disgruntled game recap here and there, but everything’s going to feel like beating a dead horse.  I’m sure there will be the occasional Seahawks post, as news would warrant, but what this really means for the ol’ blog is turning the page towards the 2017 Mariners season.

Sigh.

I mean, yeah, this MIGHT be the best Mariners team we’ve seen since the Pat Gillick years, but it also might be Year 2 of the pitching staff dragging this team down to mediocrity.  Sure, we MIGHT get some bounce-back years from our ace and our bullpen, but I can’t help but wonder where the other shoe is going to drop.  Is this the year we’re decimated by injuries?  Are we going to continue our terrible luck in 1-run games and in extra innings?

The worst part of any baseball season is that it’s such a God damned slog.  Six months’ worth of regular season, another month of Spring Training, another few weeks of training camp before that; then you’ve got another month and a half of yet another post-season we won’t get to experience.  It feels like baseball season JUST ENDED; and to those of you who are already longing for its slobbery, awkward embrace, you’re fucking sick!  You’re demented and you’re suffering from Stockholm syndrome at the hands of the MLB taking your brains hostage!

In football season, everything zooms by!  You know how easy it is to crank out 5 posts a week during football season?  Two Seahawks, 1 Huskies, and a couple of miscellaneous depending on how the news goes down in any given week.  There’s always SOMETHING to write about.  In August, it starts ramping up, and in January it’s over.  Bingo, bango, bongo.  Then, you’re left with most of a fucking calendar year focusing on baseball.  Yuk.

As usual, I’ll try my damnedest, but it’s gonna be pretty bleak around here until at least March.  I mean, how many fucking Opening Day roster projections can one man create before he goes insane and starts chopping off arms and legs?

This is what I’m like when the Seahawks’ season ends.  It’s like a reverse butterfly situation.  The beautiful Seahawks crawl into their cocoon, then they come out as an ugly baseball-playing caterpillar.  If you need me, I’ll be counting down the days until NFL Free Agency starts.

Seahawks Death Week: The “2016 The Year” Of Football Seasons

There’s just nothing to like about that season by the Seattle Seahawks.  Not a damn bit of good came from it.  That’s two years in a row of spinning our tires in the mud, with not a lot to show for it.  All we got was another year older.  Instead of being the next great dynasty, we’re just another good team.  One Super Bowl win, with the hope that we’re able to squeeze another one out of Russell Wilson before he moves on.  More and more, it’s looking like instead of a Brady/Manning/Roethlisberger situation, we’ve got a Drew Brees situation.  Maybe one title is all this group gets.  Maybe we spend the rest of our time with this core just slowly getting worse, until it’s just Wilson and Carroll, and a bunch of stiffs, regularly finishing in 3rd and 4th place in the NFC West.

The worst part is, I don’t even know how to define this season.  Yeah, the O-Line stunk, but they didn’t stink in every single game.  Yeah, we lost Earl Thomas, but there were plenty of times where this defense looked inept with Thomas in there.  If you go game by game, it’s a pretty frustrating exercise.

***

The Seahawks barely beat the Dolphins at home in week 1; the offensive line was definitely our primary fault in that one.  Wilson’s ankle got rolled up on, and that was the genesis of Hobbled Russell Wilson.

The Seahawks lost on the road to the Rams in week 2; again, the O-Line was crushed.  We lost three field goals to one, in the second game where the offense was totally out of sorts.

The 49ers were some home cooking in week 3; but, then Wilson got rolled up on again, this time injuring his knee, sending him to work with a brace for the rest of the regular season.  No fun there.

The Jets on the road were supposed to be a big test in week 4; they ended up being 5-11 on the year and one of the worst teams in the NFL.  The Seahawks, with Hobbled Russell Wilson, won by 10 points and settled into a much-needed BYE week.

The Seahawks were able to squeak by the Falcons in week 6; I think we all know enough of that game.  One bright spot was that, even in spite of a disastrous third quarter, we were able to fend off a last-minute drive, like we weren’t able to do in 2015.  The defense, when most everyone was healthy, was certainly better in 2016 than 2015; but the defense was rarely healthy.

Just when we were hoping to build on some momentum of a 3-game winning streak, we went and tied the Cardinals in week 7.  The third game out of six for the Seahawks where the offense was absolutely manhandled.  Of course, had Hauschka not been a ninny, this would’ve been a win.

The Seahawks followed that up with a road trip to New Orleans, and a baffling defeat in week 8; but, a defeat very similar to ones we have every year.  Not a good look for our defense, but the fact that our offense was held to 13 points (the other 7 attributed to an Earl Thomas fumble return for TD) against that defense is unconscionable.  Four games out of seven where the offense was a fucking trainwreck.

The Seahawks played the Bills on Monday Night Football in week 9; turns out Rex & Rob Ryan are the cures for what ails this offense.  It was less encouraging for our defense to give up 25, but they were able to foil a 2-minute drive at the end of the game to lock it up (again, shades of this not being the 2015 season).

In a game everyone expected the Seahawks to lose, they went into New England on Sunday night and upset the Pats 31-24.  Even with Michael Bennett on the shelf, this was a watershed game for our defense, as Kam returned and locked down Gronk in New England’s final series.  This was also a coming out party for C.J. Prosise, showing what this offense can do when it has a healthy, dynamic running back.

The Seahawks followed this up with a dominating performance over a then-contending Eagles team at home in week 11.  Prosise had another big impact in this game, with a 72-yard touchdown run, before leaving injured and not returning for the rest of the season.  Not a ton of people talking about the loss of Prosise as the 2016 Seahawks’ downfall, but let’s just say if we’d had him healthy for the full season, things might’ve gone a lot differently for this offense.

On the heels of another 3-game winning streak – and probably the best 3-game stretch for this team in the 2016 season – the Seahawks went to Tampa in week 12 and had their fifth terrible offensive game of the season.  This one is all on the O-Line, but one could argue things might have gone differently had Britt been healthy.  Either way, after going down 14-0 in the first quarter, and giving up no points the rest of the way, that was a real missed opportunity for the Seahawks, allowing the Bucs to hang around in contention for a while longer.

Injured guys started trickling back for the next game, at home, against the Panthers in week 13.  Britt was back, Bennett was back, Rawls had worked his way back to being a workhorse, Wilson was on the mend.  For the first time in a long time, things were FINALLY looking up for the Seahawks.  We crushed the Panthers, 40-7, and this was around the same time where we always go on our late-season runs of dominance.  But, because 2016 is the fucking worst, this was the same game where Earl Thomas broke his leg and was lost for the season.  Hashtag WeCantHaveNiceThings.

It was hard not to be deflated over the Thomas injury, but I refused to believe things would fall apart just because he was out.  We still had Kam after all!  Well, week 14’s game in Green Bay should’ve been our first clue that the rest of this year would just be a formality.  Aaron Rodgers did Aaron Rodgers things and the Seahawks were blown out for the first time since 2011.  Also, this was the sixth terrible offensive game, but mostly due to Russell Wilson’s interceptions.

In week 15, we handled the Rams on Thursday Night Football, in the game where Richard Sherman put Darrell Bevell on blast.  He would go on to put most everyone else on blast the rest of the year, in what should’ve been our second clue that the rest of this year would just be a formality.  The Seahawks don’t lose their cool.  Even when they lose their cool, it’s for a reason.  There wasn’t much of a reason for this.

In spite of the Seahawks being an up-and-down team, they held their fate in their hands.  All they needed to do was beat an underwhelming Cardinals team at home, then finish off the 49ers on the road.  Simple, right?  Win those two games, lock down the 2-seed.  Lock down the 2-seed, get the first round BYE.  Get the first round BYE, then host the Falcons in the Divisional Round instead of the other way around, and maybe our crowd does enough damage to their offense to allow the Seahawks to win and host the NFC Championship Game for the third time in four seasons.  But, the defense gave up 34 points to the Cardinals in week 16, and all of that was washed away.  The third and final clue that the rest of this year would just be a formality:  now we’d be a 3-seed, be forced to play in the Wild Card round, and have to go on the road to the Falcons, where we would go on to lose.

The Seahawks were able to take down the 49ers in week 17, but it was a lot closer than it should’ve been.  Was it us taking it easy, knowing the Falcons would lock up the 2-seed in a matter of hours?  Was it the defense continuing to struggle without Earl Thomas?

Then, the big Wild Card win at home.  The last hurrah, over a pretty inept and banged up Lions team.  Not a lot to learn from that, and ultimately the next game would look nothing like this one.

***

I mean, how do you wrap your head around a season like that?

To start, you can’t say a damn thing about it without getting into the offensive line issues.  This was the second year in a row that the Seahawks went with a bullshit, makeshift O-Line, instead of ponying up the money for proper blockers.  Justin Britt had his position moved for the third time in three seasons, and that was the ONLY move that worked.  He’ll go into the final year of his rookie deal in 2017 as our starting center; that makes me happy.  You can take the other four guys and throw them in a fucking volcano for all I care.

The Seahawks, in their prime, 2012-2014, always got by with Just Okay offensive lines.  Adequate, middle-of-the-road, doing just enough to let Marshawn Lynch run by them, and to let Russell Wilson run around them.  Then, slowly but surely, all the good parts were stripped away:  Unger traded away; Giacomini, Carpenter, and Sweezy allowed to hit free agency; Russell Okung – probably the most talented of the bunch – also allowed to hit free agency and sign a terrible deal in Denver.  Ending up with two rookies, a second-year player getting his first starting action, a third-year player switching positions for the third time, and Garry Gilliam, the only guy starting in the same spot from the year before.  Oh, and don’t forget the two free agents – Sowell and Webb – who were terrible, lost their starting jobs, and won’t be around beyond this season.

And, I get it.  I understand what the Seahawks were doing.  There’s only so much money to go around, and they preferred to give that money to their star players at the skill positions.  Wilson, Baldwin, Graham, Bennett, Avril, Wagner, Wright, Thomas, Sherman, Chancellor.  Those guys take up a lot of money.  Where can we save?  The O-Line!  Hell, we’ve got Tom Cable, surely he can build them up to be respectable by season’s end!

They damn near did it in 2015.  It looked like, once Patrick Lewis took over at center, things settled down for that unit.  Then, we got into the Divisional Round, against the Panthers and their ferocious interior linemen, and that unit was reduced to rubble.

But, without much of a choice, they did the same thing again in 2016.  As I mentioned, Britt was moved to center and that worked.  Glowinski was drafted in 2015 to be a guard of the future for this team, so why not let him work on his craft in actual games?  Germain Ifedi came at the price of a first round draft pick in 2016, so there was no way he wasn’t starting.  They made it through the season mostly unscathed, and you can ALMOST see a future with those guys in those spots, but they’ve got a lot of work to do.

And, while the guards made PLENTY of mistakes, and were often the worst parts of this unit, in my book they’re taking a back seat to the tackles, who were God-fucking-awful.  George Fant was a tight end in college, and here he was as our starting left tackle.  He was almost constantly over-matched, when we weren’t chipping defensive ends with our tight ends and running backs to give him a little help.  Gilliam was a little better – particularly later in the season, when he essentially had his manhood questioned by the coaching staff – but he too was often overmatched.  Together, neither of them are starting talents in the NFL.  Gilliam is a guy who might be a swing tackle for a good team, a 6th guy on the line who can start for you in a pinch.  But, he has no business being in there everyday.  Fant should’ve had this year to just develop in the background, but since this organization did absolutely nothing to replace Okung – aside from signing Sowell, who is a known commodity as one of the worst tackles in football – Fant was put in a position he had no business being in.  And, in that sense, he did all right.  He could be another guy who is a quality swing tackle, but he probably shouldn’t be a starter either.

This team needs, at a minimum, two new offensive tackles.  Ideally, one high in the draft and one as a free agent.  Luckily, we’ve weathered the storm of our salary cap being up against it, and should have enough extra money to make some moves, as 2017’s cap looks to be up to $170 million or more.  Not so luckily, we draft 26th again, and no quality offensive tackles will be there waiting for us.  I don’t know what the free agent market is going to be like, but things are going to get REALLY salty in Seattle if this team sits back and does nothing.

***

Aside from that, it’s a lot to do with what I was talking about yesterday:  our shoddy depth.  Starting with the 2013 draft, let’s look at who panned out:

  • Luke Willson – backup tight end
  • Spencer Ware – quality running back who we waived; he’s playing well for the Chiefs
  • Paul Richardson – 4th receiver, started coming on in this year’s playoffs with Lockett injured
  • Justin Britt – starting center, with 2016 being his first good year
  • Cassius Marsh – backup pass rusher & special teamer, 3 career sacks
  • Frank Clark – quality defensive lineman
  • Tyler Lockett – quality receiver & returner
  • Mark Glowinski – guard, started in 2016
  • Germain Ifedi – guard, started in 2016
  • Jarran Reed – quality run-stuffing defensive tackle
  • C.J. Prosise – quality running back who can’t stay healthy

That’s it, and I’m really stretching the definition of “panned out” with some of these guys.  The quality guys who we still have on this team include:  Britt, Clark, Lockett, Reed, and Prosise.  Beyond that, when you talk about this team’s depth, it’s a lot of young guys who haven’t really gotten a chance to start – because they’ve been boxed out by all the studs we’ve got starting on this team – but these same guys also aren’t making the most of their opportunities when they do find themselves on the field.  That means the coaches are failing them, or that they’re just not working very hard, but I don’t think this coaching staff or this team would sit by and let a bunch of slackers fuck around in practice.

Also, not for nothing, but when I talk about depth, I’m mostly looking at the secondary.  The depth on the O-Line is, I’m sure, a real problem, but so are the starters, so why beat that dead horse?  There’s solid depth at receiver – as shown by how P-Rich stepped his game up in the playoffs this year like a fucking CHAMP!  PROUD of you, boy! – and at tight end.  There’s also good-enough depth at D-Line and in the linebackers’ room to get by.  Where this team – and particularly this defense – struggles is when we get into the depth in the secondary.  When Kam Chancellor goes down (as he seems to do every year now), and when Earl Thomas goes down.  When, inevitably, Richard Sherman goes down (because he’s such a monster tackler; I can’t imagine those shoulders will hold up forever).  Or, like in this last game, where Shead went down with what looks like an ACL.  We thought Jeremy Lane would be enough – and I think he did okay, I’m not in this big hurry to run him off the team – but this team needs more back there.  It’s a shame too, because that’s supposed to be Pete Carroll’s specialty.  He should be ashamed of the depth we had back there in the secondary – particularly at safety – and he should be looking to shore that up in a major way in the upcoming draft.

No team stays healthy for a full year, but you’ve got to have guys to come in there and pick up the slack.  We weren’t able to do that this year.  That, and our O-Line troubles, doomed us for two years in a row.

It sounds insane to be this disgruntled about a team that hasn’t been to a Super Bowl in the last two years, but that’s what comes with success.  We’re not very far from those teams, in terms of talent and in terms of years, but we’re also trending in the absolute opposite direction.

Reasons To Be Optimistic About The Seahawks

My last Seahawks post wasn’t a joke, I really don’t have much confidence in the Seahawks doing much of anything in these playoffs.  My brother and I already have a Pizza Party bet going.  He says the Seahawks will beat the Falcons (i.e. implying that the Seahawks will get there by beating the Lions this weekend) and I say they absolutely will not.  So, as I told him before, it’ll either be the sweetest pizza I’ve ever eaten (if I’m wrong and we beat them) or the easiest free pizza I’ve ever won (when I’m right and we lose tomorrow or next Saturday).

But, as Seattle sports fans, we’re nothing if not dreamers.  All you gotta do is get in the post-season tournament, then anything can happen.  Hell, Joe Flacco won a Super Bowl in 2012 (after closing out the regular season on a 1-4 streak), while throwing 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in his 4 playoff games!  If that doesn’t scream “on any given Sunday”, I don’t know what does.

There are plenty of reasons to be down about the Seahawks right now.  Earl Thomas is out and our pass defense has collapsed as a result.  Tyler Lockett is out and we’re reduced to signing Devin Hester off the scrap heap (which, I suppose, beats having Richard Sherman back there and risking him to injury; but Hester also fumbled a bunch earlier this year, which is why he was free to sign with us in the first place; he’s also 34 years old).  And we’ve absolutely run out of time on this offensive line.  There are no more practice games where we can say, “Maybe they’ll pull it together and gel for the stretch run.”  We’re fucking IN the stretch run!  And they haven’t gelled for shit!  Remember last year, when our O-Line really DID gel in the second half of the season (or, at least, we thought they did)?  Remember what happened in the first half of that Carolina playoff game, where their D-Line was in our backfield so often it felt like it was Week 1 against the Rams all over again?  Well, the Lions nor the Falcons are on par with what the Panthers had going last year, but with how much worse the Seahawks are this year, they might as well be the fucking ’85 Bears.

But … I’m supposed to be optimistic here.  Reasons for optimism.  Think think think.

Well, truth be told, the Lions are probably the best possible draw in the NFC.  We don’t have the luxury of being in the AFC with half the teams missing their starting quarterbacks, so we’ll take what we can get.  The problem is, if the Lions are the 6th team out of 6 in the NFC, the Seahawks are probably 5th.  One could argue there’s some low-level blogger in Detroit writing about his Lions right now, thrilled (relatively speaking) that they caught a break and only have to play the very-beatable Seahawks this week, as opposed to Green Bay or the Giants.

Also on the plus side is that, while it’s no BYE week, we still get the game at home.  We’re 7-1 at home this season, and while we’ve been far from dominant, we’ve at least played better here than on the road.  It’s a night game, on a Saturday, so I’m sure the crowd will be in a drunken lather.  In an ideal scenario, the Seahawks will come out on fire and take a double-digit lead, thereby allowing our pass rush to tee off.  In the likeliest real world scenario, Matthew Stafford will dink and dunk us to death, taking out the crowd but good.

If you want to get down to it, the biggest reason for optimism is the fact that we have Russell Wilson and his two best receiving targets in Baldwin and Graham.  Between the two of them, you’d think we’d be able to get at least one of them going!  Also, by the looks of the 49ers game, it looked like Wilson was more aggressive in the zone read, pulling the ball and running with it.  Considering our O-Line can’t open up any holes for our running backs, we might need about 80 yards or so on the ground from our quarterback.

We’re not going to keep the Lions off the scoreboard, so it’s going to come down to our offense probably winning in some sort of a shootout.  The Lions’ defense doesn’t strike me as all that impressive; they seemed to beat up on the crappy teams (holding the Titans, Bears, Redskins, Vikings, Jags, Vikings, Saints, Bears, and Giants under 20 points; I suppose that performance against the Giants is somewhat impressive, but Eli is still Eli), but they’ve been gashed pretty good by the likes of the Packers twice, the Cowboys, the Colts (all over 30 points) and even the Rams (28 points).  I’d say 30 is the magic number.  I have a tough time seeing the Seahawks losing this game if we can put up 30 or more.

Going forward, if you want reasons for optimism in these playoffs, here’s a juicy one:  the Seahawks will either be playing at home or in a covered (domed) stadium from here on out.  Yeah, I know the Falcons and Cowboys are really good, but if we end up playing both of them on the road, at least there won’t be any field conditions to worry about.  At least if we’re ever faced with any sort of bitter coldness, it’ll be in front of our home fans (should either the Giants or Packers go into Dallas and beat them, which is entirely possible, while we go into Atlanta and win, which … could theoretically happen I suppose).

I would also say, regarding the remaining four NFC teams (Falcons, Cowboys, Giants, Packers), that none of them are really dominant on defense.  Each team has a player here and there you have to worry about.  But, nothing like the Vikings or Panthers were able to throw at us last year, or even the Cardinals or Bucs this year (at least, when you talk about D-Lines).

What the Seahawks need to do, if they expect to make another run at the championship, is have the offense put on its big boy pants and get to work.  For too long, they’ve leaned on the defense like a crutch.  Well, now the defense is struggling.  It’s banged up and thin.  So, now it’s time for the offense to finally pick up the defense.

I’ve been saying for years that I think Russell Wilson is an elite quarterback, and if you give him a chance to carry this team, he’ll prove he’s just as good as the likes of Brady, Brees, and Roethlisberger.  Well, I don’t see a running game anywhere, do you?  This is it!  The time is now!  Russell Wilson is all we’ve got!  And, to be quite honest, he hasn’t been good enough.  After last season’s breathtaking second half blitzkrieg, we all thought that the switch had been flipped and we’d be witnessing a Top 3 quarterback in the prime of his life.  While he’s managed career highs in completions, attempts, and total yards, his completion percentage is down from last year, his average yards per pass attempt is among the lowest of his career, and he’s thrown 13 fewer touchdowns than his career high last year!  While surpassing his career high in interceptions thrown.  Suffice it to say, he’s seen career lows in both QBR and passer rating.  I know he had those nasty knee and ankle injuries earlier in the season, and we were lucky to even get him in all 16 regular season games, let alone starting them all and playing the lion’s share of snaps.  But, he’s had some of his very worst games in the second half of this season – ostensibly when he was feeling as good as he had since before the injuries – and he’s consistently been missing receivers and turning the ball over too much to be effective.

I would never want my quarterback to be more like Joe Flacco – because he’s terrible – but if the Seahawks are going to do anything this year, they’re going to need Russell Wilson to channel some of that Joe Flacco 2012 post-season magic.  It’s the only way.

Predicting The 2016 NFL Season

Still my favorite post of the year!  Still don’t care how wrong I am!  Still got love for the streets, repping 253!  Still not loving police!  And so on and so forth …

Last year, I had the Seahawks over the Colts in the Super Bowl.  I got something like 2 division winners right, and maybe only half of the playoff participants.  And I had some MIND-BOGGLING picks, like the Rams & Lions & Dolphins in the Wild Card, and the Chiefs over the Broncos and Ravens over the Bengals as division winners.  In short, it was all bad; so let’s try to do better.  As usual, I’ll refrain from predicting actual records, and just list the teams in order of where they’ll finish in the standings in their respective divisions.

NFC East

Washington
NY Giants
Dallas
Philadelphia

I got the Redskins on a big ol’ come-up!  Mostly because I think Scot McCloughan is a roster genius and has turned around every franchise he’s put his hands on.  Their offense improved greatly over the course of the 2015 season and should play well going forward as long as Cousins stays healthy.  I think they’ll find just enough on defense to stay in games.  And, I think the Cowboys and ESPECIALLY the Eagles will be pretty bad this year.  Gods and clods in this division, as I have the Giants taking the next step and returning to the playoffs as a wild card.  I figure 9-7 should be good enough in this NFC to nab a 6th seed.

NFC North

Green Bay
Minnesota
Detroit
Chicago

You hate to put all your hopes on the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, but that’s essentially what I’m doing with the Vikings this year.  Granted, I don’t think he’s great, but I think he is good at limiting mistakes and playing within the flow of the offense.  With the team around him, I think he’s worth an extra 1-2 wins over his counterparts (in this case, Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford).  I just think Hill is doomed to get hurt at some point, and Bradford has the misfortune of not having practiced with the team all offseason.  Both guys are clear steps down compared to Bridgewater, which I think relegates this team to 7 or 8 wins at most.  That puts Green Bay in the driver’s seat by default, and a real contender for the top two spots in the NFC.  I like Detroit to play good offense and poor defense, and I like Chicago to play good defense and poor offense.

NFC South

Carolina
Tampa Bay
New Orleans
Atlanta

This feels remarkably easy, but Carolina is simply the most complete team in the division, period.  I think the Bucs take a big step forward this year – especially on offense – and I think they contend for that 6th seed, but I think they ultimately fall short on tie-breakers.  I don’t expect much out of Atlanta’s offense again this year, and I think their defense is considerably worse.  I think the Saints do enough on offense to win some games they should lose, but ultimately they need to do too much on defense to be competitive this year.  Maybe 2017.

NFC West

Seattle
Arizona
San Francisco
Los Angeles

This is the homer coming out in me.  By all rights, the Cardinals should repeat as division champs – they’re just as good as they were last year, if not better in certain areas, AND they have the easier schedule, by dodging Tom Brady and playing the Vikings instead of the Packers – but I just think the Seahawks are hungrier.  I also think the Seahawks are going to get off to a really hot start this year.  Combine that with the fact that Palmer is due for another devastating injury (with the outside chance that his psyche never recovers from that playoff dismantling by the Panthers last year), and let’s just say I’m hedging my bets by having the Cards make the wild card at something like 10-6.

Not for nothing, but I also think the Rams take a HUGE step back this year.  I think the 49ers shock some people – as they have the most negative hype I’ve seen in recent memory – and I think the Rams do so poorly that they have no choice but to fire Jeff Fisher and company (in spite of his recent contract extension).  I just think they can’t afford to waste Goff’s prime on a nothing coaching staff and will look to shake things up by bringing in the hottest offensive coordinator on the market this upcoming offseason (whoever that may be).

AFC East

New England
Buffalo
NY Jets
Miami

Keep picking the Pats until the end of time!  You want a shocker (and the clubhouse leader for the pick I’m likeliest to get wrong)?  I got Buffalo FINALLY breaking their streak as the team with the longest playoff drought!  I like Tyrod Taylor a lot, I like a desperate Rex Ryan, and I like how nobody’s giving this team a shot.  I think 9-7 (with tiebreakers) does it.  I don’t think Fitzpatrick has another year like 2015 in him, and he proves why paying guys like him $12 million per year is a fool’s errand.  I think Tannehill improves with Adam Gase as his head coach, but I don’t think it’s enough, as this team is pretty weak and unimpressive in most areas outside of the D-Line.

AFC North

Pittsburgh
Cincinnati
Baltimore
Cleveland

I like Roethlisberger to stay mostly healthy and put up huge numbers again.  I like the defense to do just enough, but the offense to ultimately carry them.  I think Andy Dalton takes a step back without Hue Jackson holding his hand.  I think Baltimore improves, but only to the 7 or 8-win range.  And, I think Cleveland gets another Top 5 draft pick to throw onto the pile.  Ultimately, I think the Bengals fall short of making the playoffs, with potential coaching casualties following.

AFC South

Houston
Jacksonville
Indianapolis
Tennessee

I think Brock Osweiler is a VAST improvement over all the QBs Houston had on their roster last year, and with the talent around him (particularly Lamar Miller’s breakout year), and that defense behind him, is enough to get them to 10 or 11 wins.  The key for Osweiler is to limit turnovers.  If he can do that (the way Hoyer & Co. could not), the sky is the limit for this team.  I like Jacksonville to take a big step forward and really contend for a wild card spot, but I think they’re probably another year away.  I’m also concerned about Bortles regressing, but I’ll avoid that conversation for now, as I’m counting on him in Fantasy to lead me to glory this year and beyond.  I think Indy is a trainwreck, and no amount of Andrew Luck will be able to carry this team to the playoffs, in what is a vastly improved division.  I think the Titans give the Colts a run for their money, but ultimately fall just short (because the Titans have garbage coaching, and no weapons on offense outside of TE).

AFC West

Kansas City
Oakland
Denver
San Diego

I like the Chiefs for 12 wins and one of the top 2 seeds.  I like Oakland to be the team to make the jump into the other Wild Card spot.  I like Denver for about 8 wins (never thought their defense alone would be enough to carry them back into the post-season).  And, I like the Chargers to be playing in a city outside of San Diego in 2017.

NFC Playoffs

  1. Seattle
  2. Green Bay
  3. Washington
  4. Carolina
  5. Arizona
  6. NY Giants

AFC Playoffs

  1. New England
  2. Kansas City
  3. Houston
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. Oakland
  6. Buffalo

I like the Seahawks because I’m a homer, and I like the Packers over the other three teams because I think they have the most favorable schedule (AFC South & NFC East are the divisions they have to play, while catching Seattle, Houston, Indy, and the Giants at home, and playing garbage Atlanta thanks to their 2nd place divisional schedule).

I like New England because they’re New England.  I like the Chiefs because I think they’re balanced and poised to take that next step.

Wild Card Round

Washington over NY Giants
Carolina over Arizona
Houston over Buffalo
Oakland over Pittsburgh

Divisional Round

Seattle over Carolina
Green Bay over Washington
New England over Oakland
Kansas City over Houston

Championship Round

Seattle over Green Bay
Kansas City over New England

Super Bowl

Seattle over Kansas City

What can I say?  I like me some Seahawks, and I like me some Super Bowls against AFC West opponents!

Why Russell Wilson Is One Of The Four Best Quarterbacks In The NFL Right Now

This post is going to be COMPLETELY subjective and COMPLETELY drenched in my homerizzm, but I don’t care.

I think Russell Wilson is pretty great at football.  If you’re a Seahawks fan, you probably agree.  I also think we’re just scratching the surface of Russell Wilson’s greatness.  Based on the second half of his 2015 season, if you’re a Seahawks fan, you probably also agree.

Why do I think Russell Wilson is one of the four best quarterbacks in the NFL?  It’s quite simple:  I can’t think of more than three quarterbacks in the league for whom I’d be willing to trade our franchise guy.  For the sake of this exercise, I should point out that I’m including age and experience in this thing, but I’m not really all that focused on the size of the contract or anything like that.  This is a simple one-for-one swap:  would I rather have Russell Wilson for however many remaining years of his career (probably well over 10 more years, if everything goes well health-wise), or would I rather have Player X?  It’s not as simple as:  you have one year, who is your starting quarterback?  It’s also not as simple as:  who had the best 2015 season?  This is, going forward, who would you be willing to have start for your team in place of Russell Wilson?

Also, for the sake of argument, let’s forget about all the growing pains of bringing in a new guy, having him learn the system, having him build a rapport with the players, and so on.  Let’s just assume, whoever you trade for, will know our system and will get along with the players as well as Wilson has.

To fulfill the “experience” and “quality” requirements, I chopped off over half of the league’s starters from last year.  None of the 2016 rookies interest me whatsoever when compared to Wilson.  Guys like Bortles, Mariota, and Winston are all very interesting, but they’re obviously not at the level of quality or experience that Wilson has.  Tyrod Taylor is another interesting name, but I’m going to need more than 14 games started before I can take you seriously as a Wilson replacement.  Osweiler is yet another interesting name, who’s had many years backing up a hall of famer, but only in 2015 was given the opportunity to start real, regular season games.  Carr, with the Raiders, is the last of the young’uns I left off of my list.  He looks every part the gunslinger that team has desperately needed for ages, but I just can’t quite put trust in any belief that his ceiling is higher than Wilson’s until I’ve seen it first.

The next group of candidates have the experience, but are lacking in the quality department, and have been left off for what I feel are obvious reasons.  Foles, Kaepernick/Gabbert, Cutler, Stafford, Bradford, Alex Smith, Dalton, Flacco, Tannehill, Fitzpatrick, and anyone else I didn’t list above, who deserve to remain nameless because they suck.  I may get blowback on guys like Dalton, Stafford, and maybe even Cutler, but those guys have showed me absolutely nothing outside of a season here and there.  They can’t consistently stay out of their own way and they tend to shit the bed when it matters most.  To be honest, Joe Flacco is probably my favorite of this bunch; I think he’d fit in quite well with what the Seahawks like to do on offense (run the ball, play action deep passes), but there’s no way in hell I’m trading Wilson for him.

That brings me to the realistic candidates.  Quarterbacks who have the ability to play at an elite level, but for various reasons I’d rather not give up Wilson for them.  Let’s start with Tom Brady, because that’s obviously the name everyone puts at or near the top of any list of the world’s best quarterbacks.  Yes, obviously, if I had one season and I wanted to win a championship, I’d consider trading Wilson for Brady.  But, Brady is going to be 39 years old this August.  While he’s still playing at an elite level this deep into his career, how many more years can you reasonably expect him to squeeze out, let alone at that aforementioned elite level?  Two?  MAYBE three?  Remember, at age 37, Peyton Manning had the greatest season of any quarterback in the history of the game.  Two seasons later, it looks like he’s played his last down.  I’m not trading upwards of a decade or more of Russell Wilson for 1-2 more quality Brady years, sorry-not-sorry (people still say that, right?).

Same story for Brees.  He’s got a lot of mileage and I’m not wasting a guy in his prime for a guy who will be out of the league soon.

Next up, I’m going to lump in guys like Carson Palmer, Tony Romo, and Ben Roethlisberger.  Of all the quarterbacks playing today, Roethlisberger might be playing at the highest level (doesn’t hurt he’s got the weapons he’s got).  But, all three of these guys are injury risks, which makes them older – in an NFL sense – than their actual ages.  All are quality passers, but I just don’t think I’d ever trade Wilson for them.

Then, there’s Eli.  He’s started every single game for the Giants since the start of the 2005 season; no injury concerns there.  He’s going into his age 35 season, so you figure if things continue to go as well as they have, he’s probably got another good 5 years or so.  I just don’t think, as a quarterback, he’s as good as Wilson (and that’s not even taking into account my opinion that Wilson will only get better as these next few years go on).  Matt Ryan is another guy who’s been pretty durable, and when he’s got a good team around him, he’s shown he’s a franchise guy.  But, like Eli, I don’t think Ryan is nearly the calibre of passer as Wilson.  I mean, let’s face it, Wilson has done a lot of good with what’s been a pretty poor pass-protection unit.  Ryan falls apart at the first instance of pressure!  No thank you.

Philip Rivers is the last guy in this section, and he’s one I honestly sort of agonized over.  He’s been on some pretty terrible and injury-riddled teams of late.  One wonders what he’d be able to do on a legitimately great team like the Seahawks.  He can go out and win you a shoot-out if need be.  He can slow it down and play the high-percentage, short passing game.  He’s not that mobile, but he’s lightning-quick in his decision-making.  My only knock against him is that he tends to be a little too reckless with the football.  Not as bad as Cutler, or some of these other guys lower on the list, but it’s still a concern.  He’ll also be 35 years old by season’s end this year, so there’s fewer seasons to look forward to with him, compared to Wilson.

Of the players I feel are of equal or greater value to Wilson, I can count only three.

Andrew Luck is a guy I think, when it’s all said and done, will be a Hall of Famer.  He needs to learn to get hit less on his scrambles, but it would also help if he had a better offensive line (Indy’s line makes Seattle’s look like the Hogs from the 80s).  I still see a long and fruitful career for Luck; don’t forget, he’s largely been carrying that team with not a lot of talent around him.  Imagine what he’d do on a stacked Seahawks team!  Right now, I’d probably rank Wilson ahead of Luck, but I wouldn’t be totally devastated if they were swapped straight up.

Next up, obviously, when you talk about the world’s greatest quarterbacks, you’re talking about Aaron Rodgers.  A-Rod will be 33 years old by season’s end, but who gives a shit?  He’s another Hall of Famer, and another guy who should play into his 40s when all is said and done.  I think, until Wilson really starts to pour it on (i.e. turns the second half of his 2015 season into many multiple FULL seasons in the future), you have to rank A-Rod ahead of him.  Even though I think he’s a collosal douche, I’d trade Wilson for him straight up.

Finally, there’s Cam.  No one wants to hear it, because everyone outside of Carolina hates Cam (and/or spends way too much time defending him when he acts like an immature little crybaby), but the dude is a straight-up baller, and not just with his legs (although, it doesn’t hurt that he’s so good running with the football).  One wonders how his body will handle all the hits long-term, but I think his running ability will last a lot longer than Wilson’s (who I feel will slide into more of a pocket passer role the more he gets comfortable reading pre-snap defenses).  Like Luck, I don’t know if Cam is necessarily BETTER than Wilson, but he’s certainly on par, and he’s young enough, and he’s carried sub-par teams to winning records/playoff appearances for multiple seasons.  From a fan standpoint, I’d probably prefer Luck to Cam, but from strictly a player standpoint, I think I could be talked into taking Cam over Luck.  Talk to me again in a year or two and that statement might look batshit crazier than it already does, but that’s how I feel right now, so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate (if it wasn’t already clear) that I think Russell Wilson is great and I don’t necessarily want to trade him for anyone in the league.  But, if I HAD to, I’d only accept A-Rod, Cam, or Luck, in that order.  Anyone else, I feel, would be beneath what Russell Wilson has to offer over the course of the rest of his career in this league.

The Seattle At Carolina Preview

When you take them one game at a time, it doesn’t feel so ominous.  In a vacuum, these Seahawks are fully capable of winning a game in Minnesota.  In a vacuum, these Seahawks are fully capable of winning a game in Carolina.  And, in a vacuum, these Seahawks are fully capable of winning a game in Arizona OR a game in Green Bay.  But, jeez, when you line them all up in a row, knowing you have to do all this in back-to-back-to-back weeks, it starts to feel REALLY daunting.  Even though it’s just a series of three coin flips, one week apart, it’s just knowing that you have to win all three that sort of drives me batty.

Last week, it felt like a foregone conclusion that the Seahawks would advance.  Of course, the game ended up being a lot closer (and a lot closer to DISASTER) than I anticipated, but the better team did win and move on.  This week, as I’ve said repeatedly, feels like the Super Bowl.  I still think the Seahawks are the better football team, but they’ve got SO MUCH going against them.  At this point, fair or unfair, right or wrong, it’s going to depend on which Seahawks team shows up.  Will it be the team that struggled to find consistency in the first half of the season (and in recent games against the Rams & Vikings)?  Or, will it be the team running like a top, who has taken care of business against some pretty good opponents?

As a Seahawks fan in recent years, we’ve come to expect certain things.  We expect our defense to clamp down like a bear trap.  We expect varying levels of success out of our offense, with steady improvement as the game goes along.  This year has flipped the script a little bit.  The defense – while still tops in points allowed – isn’t quite what it has been in recent years.  It shows flashes, and sometimes pulls off entire games where it looks as dominant as ever.  But, other times, the game starts to get away from them.  Breakdowns happen.  Where once it was the Seahawks making their furious comebacks late in games, now it’s the other teams taking it to us.

I don’t know how you get more frustrating than that first Carolina game this year.  Let’s take a look back, blow by blow.

  • We traded punts on the first three drives of the game
  • On Carolina’s second possession, deep in their own territory, Cam Newton threw a pick to Earl Thomas at the Carolina 33 yard line.  The Seahawks ran four plays & had to settle for a field goal
  • On the next possession, Carolina ate up the rest of the first quarter, marching 80 yards with an equal mix of run & pass, for a TD
  • On the next possession, Seattle marched right back to score a TD, re-taking the lead 10-7, which is how the half ended after trading more punts
  • Carolina got the ball to start the 2nd half, went 3 & Out
  • On the next possession, Seattle scored a TD on two explosive pass plays to make it a 2-score game
  • Again, deep in their territory, Cam Newton threw a pick, returned to the Carolina 33 yard line.  The Seahawks went 3 & Out and settled for a long field goal to go up 20-7
  • On the next possession, Carolina marched 80 yards AGAIN, with an equal mix of run & pass, for a TD
  • The teams traded punts, then the Seahawks drove for a FG to again make it a 2-score game, 23-14
  • The teams again traded punts, then the Panthers engineered their third 80-yard TD drive, mostly on the arm of Cam Newton, to make it a 1-score game
  • On the next possession, the Seahawks went 4 & Out – marred by penalties & sacks, while only managing to take off less than 90 seconds of game clock
  • In a little under 2 minutes, the Panthers completed their comeback with their FOURTH 80-yard TD drive of the day, with Greg Olsen catching the go-ahead score on a broken coverage in the secondary

It was a good sign to see the team move the ball relatively effectively, as well as the defense forcing Cam Newton into two interceptions on the day.  But, the offense was a miserable 4/14 on third down (29% conversion), 1/3 in the red zone, and failed to convert either of those turnovers into touchdowns.  On top of that, I’m sorry, but that was a mind-boggling performance by the defense.  On Carolina’s four 80-yard TD drives, they ran 42 of their 72 overall plays, while taking up 18:23 of their 32:12 time of possession.  And, as I said, for the most part it was a healthy mix of run & pass, running for 135 yards and throwing for another 248 in total on the day.  We’re talking about a defense who – all year – only gave up 6.6 yards per pass attempt; Cam Newton managed 7.5.  And a defense who – all year – only gave up 3.6 yards per carry; Carolina managed 4.1.

Now, obviously, the Seahawks were missing some dawgs.  Bobby Wagner, Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lane, Marcus Burley, all sat out with injury.  And, of course, the notorious Cary Williams (who has been, without fail, the biggest fucking scapegoat I’ve EVER seen) still held his starting job at that time, and was getting picked on throughout.  Nevertheless, if I’m a member of the Seahawks defense, going into Carolina this weekend, I’m out for blood.  Our Week 6 performance was absolutely unacceptable.

For all the factors going against the Seahawks this weekend, there’s one positive in all this:  the revenge factor.  Coming into the 2015 season, the Seahawks had made Carolina our bitches time and time again.  Close, hard fought games, sure.  But, we always found a way to pull it out, and I’m sure that had to have driven them CRAZY.  It all came to a head in last year’s playoffs, where the Panthers came in and played pretty well for a team with a losing record.  But, we owned that fourth quarter, and pulled away when it mattered.  So, when they came back to Seattle in Week 6 with an undefeated record, against a somewhat reeling Seahawks team still trying to find its footing, they were not only prepared for the onslaught of the fans and the hugeness of the game, but they powered through and made us look silly in the fourth quarter, when that’s OUR time.  That’s when WE make YOU look silly!

So, now, here we are.  Underdogs in a playoff game for the first time since probably 2012.  Going into Big, Bad Carolina, the 15-1 juggernaut who couldn’t have had an easier path to the #1 seed.  The last taste we have in our mouths being that Week 6 embarrassment.  You’re telling me we don’t have a reason to be up for this game, outside of the obvious (this being the playoffs, win or go home, and all that)?  I think the Seahawks want to show Carolina – and the rest of the world – who the REAL top dawgs are.  We may have stumbled at times this year, but we’re STILL the champs.  And January is when we come to play our best!

***

Can I just step back for a second and say how much fun I think this all is?  On the one hand, yeah, it’s the playoffs and it’s nerve wracking as all get-out.  The further you advance, the more intense it becomes.  And LOSING in the playoffs?  I don’t know what’s worse.  For a good week or two or three or fifty (as is the case when you lose a Super Bowl like the Seahawks did last year), I just couldn’t feel any lower as a fan.  Depressed and angry and jealous and confused and depressed some more.  There are SO MANY drawbacks to being a sports fan, I sometimes wonder why it’s all worth it.

But, then we get to a week like this.  Seahawks at Panthers.  THIS is what being a fan is all about.  Remember how jacked up we all got when the Seahawks would face the Jim Harbaugh 49ers?  This feels just like that.  Maybe Ron Rivera isn’t as loathesome as The Douchebag (I actually respect the hell out of the guy, if I’m being honest); but I’m starting to come around on hating Cam Newton.  I don’t know if anyone can be as revolting as Colin Kaepernick kissing his own bicep after a touchdown, but Cam Newton and all his dabbing is a REAL close second in my book.  If I’m being perfectly honest, I do think a lot of the hate, in general, from non-Carolina fans throughout the country, is at least somewhat racially motivated.  I mean, when Tom Brady runs around like a maniac during his touchdown celebrations, mostly people just talk about how he’s a competitor and a fiery guy; but when Cam Newton does his thing, he’s a preening cunt.  I’m not going to be that guy who’s out here calling everyone a racist, but I think subliminally, there’s a little something to it.

All I know is, if he was my team’s franchise quarterback (and I knew nothing of what it’s like to have Russell Wilson), I’m sure I’d love Cam Newton to death.  But, he’s not on my team, and he plays on one of my team’s biggest rivals, so I’m starting to hate him just a little bit more.  It’s only healthy.

What’s fun about the Seahawks/Panthers matchup is that it IS a rivalry now.  We’ve played them at least once every year since Russell Wilson came into the league.  Five times overall.  The Seahawks won the first four matchups (including last season in the Divisional Round), and through that point, while the games were all close and highly competitive, it was a little bit like the Big Brother holding the little brother at arm’s length while he stands there flailing his fists wildly to no avail.  Our defense was the embodiment of “Stop Hitting Yourself!” when it came to forcing Cam Newton into untimely mistakes (untimely for the Panthers, anyway).  Then, the Panthers came into Seattle in Week 6 and totally pantsed us, and NOW it’s a true rivalry.  They stole our mojo, in the home of the 12’s, and rode that mojo to the best record in all of football.  Now, it’s on, and it couldn’t be more exciting.

***

If you’re a football fan, and you don’t necessarily have a hog in this race, I don’t see how you can look at the four games this weekend and NOT be looking forward to the Seahawks/Panthers matchup the most.  Kansas City/New England?  There’s a slim chance that game is competitive, but my money is on the team with the better quarterback.  I think the odds of that game being a blowout are VASTLY greater than of the game being interesting in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.  Green Bay/Arizona?  No way.  The Cards are going to CRUSH them into dust!  That might be the most boring game of the weekend.  Pittsburgh/Denver is the only game that might even approach the quality of our game, but there are a lot of reasons to think that might be an ugly affair.  Can Ben Roethlisberger throw the ball more than 10 yards in the air?  Does Peyton Manning have any juice left?  We could be looking at a matchup of the noodliest arms in the history of the league!  With Denver’s defense on a mission, if Ben doesn’t have it, I could see this being a rout in the Broncos’ favor.

Seattle/Carolina, that’s what’s up.

We’re talking about two teams who are as healthy as they could possibly be at this point in the season (not counting players on IR, of course; and assuming Marshawn Lynch is able to give it a go).  We’re talking about the MVP of the league (Cam) against the hottest quarterback in the league the last half of the season (Wilson, 25 TDs, 2 INTs in the last 8 games, including last week).  We’re talking about the #1 scoring offense (Carolina) against the #1 scoring defense (Seattle).  The #2 rush offense (Carolina) against the #1 rush defense (Seattle).  A rematch of last year’s remarkable Divisional playoff game, only this time played in the other team’s stadium.

And, when you flip it around, it’s still pretty damn close.  Seattle was the #4 scoring offense; Carolina was the #6 scoring defense.  Seattle was the #3 rushing offense; Carolina was the #4 rushing defense.  Seattle’s got big play-makers on both sides of the ball (Wilson, Lynch, Baldwin, Bennett, Avril, Wagner, LOB); Carolina’s got big play-makers on both sides of the ball (Newton, Stewart, Olsen, Kuechly, Davis, Short, Norman).  Our strengths are their strengths; this should prove to be a massively entertaining ordeal.

The great equalizer in all this, oddly enough, will be Seattle’s offensive line.  In that Week 6 game, Russell Wilson was sacked 4 times, but harassed all day.  The Panthers had 7 QB hits and another 6 tackles for loss.  Russell Okung also had a pretty costly holding penalty that negated a big run by Lynch, helping lead to that drive stalling.  Over the majority of the second half of the season, as Russell Wilson’s performance has improved, so has the offensive line’s.  Everyone returned for last week’s game, and no new injuries cropped up.  On top of that, Luke Willson is returning, who should provide a boost over the other tight ends on the roster when it comes to blocking.

If the Seahawks’ offensive line plays to the best of its abilities, the Seahawks shouldn’t have any trouble improving upon their third down conversion rate, moving the football, and scoring touchdowns over field goals (when compared to our Week 6 contest).  When the Seahawks are clicking, as they’ve been known to do from time to time, there’s no team in the game that can stop them.

But, when the Seahawks make mistakes.  When they let the pressure overwhelm them, when they allow lots of hurries and sacks, when they get penalized at inopportune times, then the game gets all mucked up, and before you know it, there we are at the end of the game sweating out another nailbiter.

As far as weather is concerned, we’re looking at the low-to-mid 40s come kickoff.  Says there’s a 20% chance of rain, but overall looks pretty reasonable.  Nothing too much to be concerned with there.

The thing I can’t help but shake is the comparison to the 2012 playoffs.  That was our first year with Russell Wilson, but we still blew it in the first half, and ultimately blew it at the game’s end.  Getting over THIS hump feels like the more difficult challenge than the hump that would await (likely in Arizona); just like getting over the hump in Atlanta in 2012 proved to be more difficult than it would have been to beat the 49ers that year.  Losing in the Divisional Round is pretty bad in its own right, because it leaves you with so many more What If’s.  Mainly:  what if we’d won and gotten a chance to play in the NFC Championship Game?

We can’t lose this one.  And, I don’t THINK we will, but I’m not nearly as confident as I was last week.  What everyone is banking on is that the Seahawks are battle tested.  7 of our 16 regular season games were against playoff teams; we were 3-4 in those games.  The Panthers, by contrast, only faced off against 4 playoff teams in their 16 regular season games; they went 4-0 in those games.  Obviously, the most impressive win was against Seattle IN Seattle.  Two of those games were against Houston and Washington (both at home), who were two of the shakiest divisional winners of all time.  The other was also at home, against a struggling and injury-plagued Packers team.  Their schedule, to be quite honest, deserves all the ridicule it gets.  But, to be fair, they did get the job done, and beat the teams they were supposed to beat.

And, as we all know, anything can happen in a 1-game sample.

So close, and yet still so far away.  This is the week where the Seahawks can prove whether they truly earned the title of Team Nobody Wants To Play in this year’s playoffs, or if they’ll just be another in a long line of cautionary tales, about the struggles that good teams can face when they don’t get one of the top two seeds and home field advantage.

I’ve got Seahawks 33, Panthers 27, but like I said before, I’m not confident at all.

Beware The Divisional Round Game

The NFL has a bit of a flawed playoff system, owing primarily to the fact that each conference has 4 divisions.  Dating back to when this system started, there’s always a division winner who is marginally to drastically worse than at least one if not both Wild Card teams.  These are teams that just have zero shot whatsoever of winning the Super Bowl, who get the privilege of hosting playoff games; it’s insanity!  Every once in a while, you’ll see the inferior home team pull it out (the 2010 Seahawks & the 2014 Panthers come immediately to mind), but you knew those teams would lose the very next week!  And, lo and behold, so it was.

For the most part, the better teams win in the Wild Card round, and often that can mean the road teams (like this past weekend, when all four road teams moved on).  The Divisional Round is the great equalizer, though.  You’ve got the four plucky Wild Card hopefuls trying to ply their trade against the top four teams in the league (record-wise).  And what happens?  The home teams win about 75% of the time.  They’ve got home field, they’ve got the week of rest (while the Wild Card teams have been beating themselves senseless in the freezing cold), and in most cases, they’re simply the BETTER football teams.  There’s usually a reason why you win your division and grab one of the top two seeds in a conference:  because you’re really fucking good!

I’d say in the AFC, the home teams ARE the better teams (not so scared of PIttsburgh when Roethlisberger is playing on a bum wing; but talk to me again in a week if he shows up healthy as a horse and wills his team to the championship game).  I don’t know why I ever thought it would be a good idea to go to Tahoe to do some sports gambling in the middle of the regular season:  we should all go to the nearest sports book RIGHT NOW and put all our money on Denver and New England to win big.  Hell, throw Arizona into the mix as well, because I don’t think Green Bay has a chance to even keep it close.  We’d all be RICH, I guarantee it!

This Seattle/Carolina game, however, might be the lone outlier on the weekend.

From a pure matchup standpoint, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for a football game since the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers a couple years ago.  This game will not only be the best, most exciting, most entertaining game of the weekend, I think it has a better than good chance of being the best, most exciting, most entertaining game of the entire playoffs.  I think I said it here last week and I’ll say it again:  the winner of this game is winning it all.  Seattle @ Carolina IS the Super Bowl for the 2015 season, mark it.

There are a bunch of reasons to be nervous about this game, from a Seahawks perspective, and I don’t even plan on talking about the in-game matchups today.  We’re going on the road for a third straight week, against a third straight REALLY TOUGH defense.  We’re flying all the way across the country, as far as possible given the NFC playoff field, and we’re once again saddled with the early game on Sunday.  We’re coming off of one of the hardest hitting, most brutal games since the fucking Ice Bowl, only to fly all the way back to Seattle from Minnesota, only to fly all the way back out again across the country a few days later.  Meanwhile, they’ve had a week off to rest and get healthy.  They had one of the easiest roads to a 15-1 record I’ve ever seen, but you know what?  They took care of business, they got their one loss out of the way, they locked up home field, and they looked like they’ve been having the most fun of any team in the history of the NFL.  They’re big, physical, and rested; and they’re talented, confident, and hungry.  I wouldn’t be surprised by any stretch of the imagination if this was the end of the line for the Seahawks.

I could see the Seahawks coming out flat and tired, making a bunch of mistakes, struggling to convert third downs.  I could see the defense not laying a finger on Cam Newton as he methodically drives down the field for multiple scores.  If I’m being totally honest, I could see the last three years finally catching up with the Seahawks – all the long playoff runs, all the pressure of being the best – with them laying their first real egg of the Russell Wilson era.  You gotta admit, the Seahawks have been living a charmed fucking life since 2013.  It’s HARD to be this good for this long.  Even Belichick’s Patriots had some Divisional Round exits on their record.

Part of this, of course, is the tried and true Reverse Jinx, but part of it is also trying to lessen the blow of a very real possibility.  Carolina is a good football team.  Winning on the road is difficult, even against bad football teams.  If the Seahawks had an emotional let-down (as they did a little bit after last year’s NFC Championship Game Miracle, though no one wants to talk about that), I wouldn’t blame them at all.

Here’s what’s giving me hope, though.  We forget, because the last two years have seen the top seeds in each conference make the Super Bowl, but that isn’t always the case.  In 2012, we had the 4-seeded Ravens against the 2-seeded 49ers.  I mean, yeah, Baltimore had a home game in the Wild Card round, but they beat the 1-seeded Broncos and the 2-seeded Patriots in back-to-back weeks!  Don’t tell me it can’t be done!

In 2011, we had the 4-seeded Giants, at 9-7, mow through the up & coming Falcons at home, then the 15-1 Packers in the Divisional Round (red faced Coughlin, anyone?), before upsetting the 2-seeded 49ers in that game where that guy muffed all those punts, before winning it all against one of the best-ever Patriots teams.

In 2010, we had the 6-seeded Packers, at 10-6 (sound familiar?), win on the road against a probably-inferior Eagles team (one of Andy Reid’s last years there), before nailing top-seeded Atlanta (NFC South winner) and taking care of business in a grudge match against divisional rival, and 2nd-seeded Chicago (propelling them into the Super Bowl where they beat a very good Steelers team, in one of the better and more unheralded Super Bowls of the last 20 years).  Why couldn’t that be us?

Want to see some more weird similarities?  Those 2010 Packers were a good team, with a good quarterback, who caught some tough breaks.  10-6 record, same as Seattle this year.  In 5 of those 6 defeats, Green Bay had a LEAD in the 4th quarter, only to have it taken away late, same as Seattle this year.  Three of their defeats were to eventual division winners (just like us), and they also had a couple of mind-boggling defeats to some real pieces of shit (Detroit & Washington had combined 12-20 records, or pretty much the St. Louis Rams).  And yet, they were a good, veteran team.  They got hot at the right time.  And, they plowed through the NFC playoffs battle-tested and ready to kick some fuckin’ ass in the Super Bowl.

Why not us?

History is probably against us, so long as you don’t just pick & choose which examples you want to point to like I’m doing here.  But, they play the games on fields instead of computers for a reason.  Anything can happen, up to and including winning it all as the 6th seed in a conference.  The Seahawks have shown resiliance, toughness, and at times they’ve been lucky as all get-out.  On a neutral field, under neutral conditions (i.e. no BYE week for the other team), I wouldn’t even be having this conversation.  The Seahawks ARE the better team.  But, as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, the best team doesn’t always win.  In this case, with one arm tied behind our backs, we go into Carolina the underdog in every meaning of the word.  Will we have the fortitude to get past this biggest of hurdles?

If so, it looks a lot better for us in the NFC Championship Game, I promise you.  There, it’s more of a 50/50 proposition as to whether the home team wins or not.

I just don’t want these playoffs to end without my team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, if for no other reason than to get last year’s taste out of our mouths.