I don’t know much about cars; do you really kick gears?
The Seahawks did a great and impressive thing last week: they stepped toe to toe with one of the better offenses in the league, and they came out on top. When you look at the probable major players for the NFC playoffs, you’re going to have to overcome some impressive offenses: Arizona, Green Bay, and Carolina (even though nobody thinks of them as having an impressive offense, go really look at the numbers they’re putting up this year with essentially no one but Cam). It’s going to be vital in some of these potential playoff matchups (if, indeed, that’s where the Seahawks end up) to have our offense clicking to match theirs.
On the flipside, we have this week’s matchup against the Vikings. They DON’T have an impressive offense. In fact, it’s pretty feeble. It’s Adrian Peterson and A LOT of game managing out of their quarterback. But, their defense is rock solid in just about every aspect. When you look at teams like the Vikings, Arizona and Carolina again, and to a lesser extent the Falcons, you’re going to see some good defenses in the playoffs as well. Getting our guys going against these stout fronts will make all the difference in getting back to a third Super Bowl in three years.
Finally, the big thing about this week’s game is that this is the last really good team we’re going to face until the playoffs (if you think like I do, that the Cards will be resting the bulk of their starters for the bulk of that game in week 17, as they’ll have the 2-seed wrapped up by then). I see this as the true litmus test of the second half of this season. To date, until defeating the Steelers, the Seahawks had lost every game against every quality opponent they faced. They’re now 1-4 in those games, with – as I mentioned – one final test to go. If these are the same Seahawks we watched struggle to a 4-5 start, then I would put all my money down on the Seahawks LOSING this weekend in another heartbreaker. BUT, if they’ve somehow turned a corner (like they did towards the end of 2014 and 2012), then the Vikings will be just another mediocre opponent we’ll have no trouble defeating by 7-10 points.
The formula couldn’t be simpler: stop Adrian Peterson and you stop the Vikings. At that point, it’s just a matter of getting to 17-20 points to give yourself enough of a cushion to withstand any late-game heroics. Do I think the Seahawks are capable of doing that? Mmm, I think anything’s possible.
As I mentioned in my review of the Steelers game, I like our defense to make a big leap forward in the coming weeks. I like Shead as our other starting corner. I like getting Lane back and him having a full game under his belt. I think we’re JUST starting to get our groove back as a whole, defensively. But, I think it’s highly probable that we’re not giving Teddy Bridgewater enough credit for limiting mistakes and getting the ball into the hands of playmakers. The Vikings have a good, young receiver (Stefon Diggs) and a quality, underrated tight end (Kyle Rudolph), and I think they’ll be able to move the ball through the air just enough. I also think it’s impossible to stop Adrian Peterson for a full 60 minutes. We’ve got a very good run defense, but then again, is it good because of the long line of stiffs we’ve been playing against? Take a look:
- The Rams, pre-Gurley (Benjamin Cunningham led with 45 yards on 16 carries)
- The Packers, featuring Fat Eddie Lacy (James Starks actually led with 95 yards on 20 carries)
- The Bears, featuring Jimmy Clausen & no Alshon Jeffery (Forte, with 74 yards on 20 carries)
- The Lions, ’nuff said (Ameer Abdullah with 33 yards on 13 carries)
- The Bengals, featuring Disappointing Jeremy Hill, and playing from way behind (Giovani Bernard with 80 yards on 15 carries)
- The Panthers, first solid rushing team (Jonathan Stewart with 78 yards on 20 carries)
- The 49ers, ’nuff said (Carlos Hyde with 40 yards on 11 carries)
- The Cowboys, no Romo (Darren McFadden with 64 yards on 20 carries)
- The Cardinals, decent rushing team (Chris Johnson with 58 yards on 25 carries)
- The 49ers again, this time no Hyde (Shaun Draughn with 37 yards on 12 carries)
- The Steelers, primarily a passing team (DeAngelo Williams with 29 yards on 8 carries)
I mean, really, LOOK at that list! Carolina ran the ball well, aside from J-Stew. Starks had a solid game. Bernard burned us pretty good at times. But, NONE of those guys are even close to what a healthy A.P. can do. Are we SURE the Seahawks’ run defense is that good? We’ll find out this weekend. If it isn’t as good as we thought, we’ll be in big trouble.
Lose this game and it’s not necessarily the end of the world. Drops us to 6-6, with three easy games (at an injury-riddled Baltimore Ravens; home vs. Cleveland; home vs. the Rams – who we always beat at home) and another potentially-easy game against the Cards. 10-6 would still be possible with a loss this weekend.
But, a loss also leads to shifting expectations. I don’t think we’d have any business believing that this is a championship team. If we can’t beat the Vikings, what would make us believe that we’d beat a try-hard Cardinals team, or a still-good Packers team, or a flawless Panthers team? We’d be making the playoffs just for the sake of being there, and we’d probably get bounced in the first round by the winner of the NFC North. Especially if that team is the Packers and we have to go back to Green Bay again, this time in the bitter cold.
A victory in Minnesota this weekend, however, puts a total re-set on the season. It would mean the Seahawks ARE legit, and they HAVE flipped the switch at the exact right time. At that point, I’d expect the Seahawks to win out, nab that 5-seed, and go into the winner of the NFC East and DESTROY them with ease. My excitement level for the final four weeks will be off the charts.
As a closing aside, the last few years we’ve been talking about the great dynasties of past decades. The Vikings of the 60s, the Steelers of the 70s, the 49ers of the 80s, the Cowboys of the 90s, the Patriots of the 00s; but, one “dynasty” I’ve always had a soft spot for is the Buffalo Bills of the early 90s. Yeah yeah, I know, they lost four straight Super Bowls, and from a historical perspective, they’re laughingstocks. But, do you know how IMPOSSIBLE it is for a team to go to four straight Super Bowls? The Dolphins went to three in the early 70s (winning two), everyone else it’s two in a row or less. Just getting to four straight Super Bowls, even winning none of them (though, coming to within a missed field goal of winning that first one) is an all time miracle of professional football. That’s being consistently good enough to be dominant year after year, while at the same time catching fire in the playoffs. And the Bills weren’t beating up on a down conference, either! They had Marino’s Dolphins, Esiason’s Bengals, Moon’s Oilers, Schottenheimer’s Chiefs, and Elway’s Broncos to contend with year-in and year-out. Some of the greatest players and coaches of all time coached in this era, and still the Bills went to back-to-back-to-back-to-back Super Bowls. Unreal!
I’m not making an argument that I’d trade places with those teams or anything, but I like the idea of the Seahawks making a serious run at going to four straight. Well, this would be year three. In years 1 and 2, the Seahawks were division winners and top seeds in their conference. In years 1 and 2 for Buffalo during their run, the Bills were division winners and top seeds in their conference. In year 3 for the Bills, they had some struggles and finished second in their division. But, they nabbed the top Wild Card slot, won a crazy playoff game where they came back from being down by 32 points (still the greatest comeback of all time), and scratched and clawed their way back to their third Super Bowl (knocking off the #1 seed in the Divisional Round, then beating their divisional rival in the Championship Game).
This year’s Seahawks team looks like it’s headed for a Wild Card spot. We already had our huge “comeback game” against the Packers last year, but who’s to say we don’t win some crazy Wild Card game this year, face the Panthers in the Divisional Round, and then have to go down to Arizona for the NFC Championship Game?
For what it’s worth, that fourth Bills team easily won its division and reclaimed their #1 seed in the playoffs. So, we have that to look forward to, if my prophecy comes to fruition (except, no more getting beat in the Super Bowl, thx).