Seattle Seahawks

A frozen showdown between Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers

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USA Today

A frozen showdown between Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers

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This Sunday, Russell Wilson will return to the home of his college football glory days, and the game will mark just the second time Wilson has appeared in a football uniform in the state of Wisconsin since November of 2011. Between seven home games in his senior year in college and one game played at Lambeau Field in his fourth NFL season, Wilson holds a 7-1 lifetime record in football games played in the state of Wisconsin, with an .875 winning percentage. Wilson’s rival this Sunday, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, has notched 70 professional football games in the state of Wisconsin, and holds a 54-16 record in games he has started, with a .771 winning percentage. 

Today, it would be difficult to find two better NFL QB’s, but just as recently as five years ago, a Wilson-Rodgers duel wouldn’t have sounded like much. Back then, Wilson was the green third round rookie QB who was still learning the speed of the pro game, but he was clearly better than most first year players, and limited his mistakes by leaning on a strong running game and only releasing the ball in high percentage passing situations. It wasn’t always exciting, but it was key in getting him to where he is today. 

By 2012 Rodgers was already a veteran by NFL standards, with a Super Bowl ring, Super Bowl MVP, and regular season MVP in his trophy case. Like Wilson, Rodgers puts a premium on limiting his mistakes, and holds the active record for career passer rating and lowest interception percentage. Number two on both of those lists – Mr. Russell Wilson. Rodgers and Wilson are the only active players with career passer ratings over 100, and if they stay where they are or better, both will retire as the only players in NFL history with a career rating at 100 or higher.

Wilson and Rodgers have faced off four times since 2012, and WIlson won their initial meeting by way of a controversial game-ending touchdown, and the rivalry officially began. Since the opening chapter in their rivalry, Wilson and Rodgers have faced each other three times, with Wilson winning twice, and Rodgers winning the most recent meeting.

In four career games against Wilson, Rodgers has completed 66% of his passes for 839 yards, four touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. Over the same span, Wilson has completed 65% of his passes for 736 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Rodgers has attempted at least 33 passes in all four contests, while Wilson has thrown 29 or fewer passes in three of the four matchups. Both passers are hovering around 200 yards per game in the rivalry, and while Wilson has thrown at least one touchdown in all four games including two without a turnover, while Rodgers has avoided turning the ball over in two of the games, but failed to throw a touchdown pass in their first meeting, and has at least one touchdown pass in the three meetings since. 

The home team has won all four matchups in this heated rivalry, with Seattle hosting and winning the first three contests, and Green Bay hosting and winning last season’s matchup. Over the series, Seattle has averaged 24 points per game, and Green Bay has averaged 19.  Two games have been decided by one score, and two games have been decided by at least two scores, making it difficult to gauge reasonable expectations.

The most intense meeting between the two teams came in the 2014 NFC Championship game, where Green Bay led 16-0 at halftime, held a 19-7 lead in the fourth quarter,  failed to close the game out on an onside kick return with the game winding down, and after kicking a field goal to force overtime, gave up a long touchdown pass on Seattle’s opening possession of overtime to end the game. Green Bay won the turnover battle including forcing Russell Wilson into four interceptions, but despite serious injuries that limited Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman late in the game, Mike McCarthy opted for conservative play calls down the stretch, and Seattle’s bold playmakers took advantage and took the victory. 

Green Bay won the meeting last year to make the series a little less lopsided, but Seattle still owns the Packers since drafting Wilson. This year, both sides are missing key players that won’t be back in time for Sunday but that won’t excuse the losing side this weekend.

Despite their gap in records, both teams still really need this win, but for different reasons. Green Bay sits at 6-6, and in third place in the NFC North. In order to keep pace in a very crowded wild card race, the Packers need to win out, or deal with watching the postseason from the couch. Seattle stands at 8-3-1 and currently holds the lead in the NFC West and the #2 seed in the NFC. As long as they stay ahead of the Falcons, Lions, and Giants, they should earn a much needed first round bye as well as host any game not against Dallas.

This matchup will feature a mixed bag of offense and defense, as the Seahawks come in with the league’s 20th best scoring offense at 22 points per game, the 14th ranked passing attack with 256.4 yards per game, and the 20th ranked offense with 101.5 yards per game. They will be facing the Packers 23rd ranked scoring defense allowing 25.2 points, the 16th ranked passing defense allowing 254.2 yards, and the 9th ranked rushing defense allowing 92.9 yards per game.

On the flip side, Green Bay has the 11th ranked scoring offense at 24.6 points per game, the 10th ranked passing attack at 261.2 yards, and the 24th ranked ground attack with 99.1 yards per game. Seattle’s scoring defense is ranked 1st at 16.2 points allowed per game, the 23rd ranked passing defense at 231 yards allowed, and the 14th ranked rush defense at 99.2 yards per game.

For Seattle, with a win they could knock Green Bay out of playoff contention, and put a bigger gap between them and the teams fighting for the top seeds in the NFC playoffs. WIth just three games to go after this week, a losing record will be too much for the Packers to overcome in the NFC playoff hunt, and it should give Seattle the distance it needs to keep the Falcons, Giants, and Lions fighting for the third seed and keep the second seed for themselves.

The gametime temperature this Sunday is expected to be below freezing, leaving Seattle the perfect opportunity to do something cold to the host Packers – end their season. Green Bay could save their season with a win over the Seahawks, but the odds are stacked against them even on their home field.

Seattle reignited their much needed second half surge with a blowout win over Carolina last week, and could make a bigger statement with a win in Green Bay followed by a favorable schedule over the final three weeks against teams with losing records. Can the Seahawks string a pair of wins together and put a stop to their see-saw season? We’ll find out this Sunday.

Seattle vs. Carolina: The Battle of former superpowers

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USA Today

Seattle vs. Carolina: The Battle of former superpowers

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When Carolina and Seattle played in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2014 and 2015, it had the feeling of an old fashioned heavyweight title bout. Cam “SuperCam” Newton vs Russ “DangeRuss” Wilson honestly belonged on an old boxing billing. We had the undercards in Luke Kuechly vs Marshawn Lynch, Josh Norman vs Doug Baldwin, and Richard Sherman vs Greg Olsen. It was a battle for the ages, and we scheduled our weekend around it.

These teams were so similar on both sides of the ball that it was honestly a shame that one of them had to lose, and you’d love to see them face off in the Super Bowl if it were possible.

Fast forward to this season, and really all that anyone can think of to describe the matchup is “maybe I’ll watch”. Part of the issue is that you would probably have trouble finding supporters outside of the two fan bases who would think of these two teams as NFC superpowers. Sure, Seattle has a winning record, but they are not consistently beating elite teams. They are having an equal amount of trouble with average teams, and Carolina is having trouble just getting out of their own way against just about anyone they face.

We saw Seattle get KO’d by Tampa Bay last week, and the Seahawks were so inconsistent on both sides of the ball that they made Tampa look an awful lot like the 2010 Seahawks, who used supersized receivers and a fired up defense along with a home crowd hungry for a big time win to upset the overconfident visitors.

Carolina lost a heart breaker to Oakland by a mere 3 points after being down 24-7 at halftime, and has looked like they lost their identity along with CB Josh Norman in the offseason. Whatever magic they summoned to take the league by storm last year dissipated when they lost to Denver in the season opener on a last second missed field goal.

The Panthers are 4-7 and look nothing like they did the last two years when they were a legitimate contender. Their defense was top five last season, and is struggling to stay in the top thirty this season, while their offense is still ranked tenth, nine spots lower than their number one spot last season. Seattle is 7-3-1 and could wind up snagging the #2 seed in the NFC if they can keep pace with 7-4 Atlanta, who lost to Seattle in week six.  The Seahawks continue to hold water on defense despite enduring a revolving door of injured stars, but their offense is a work in progress, and the young offensive line has forced a ripple effect that has caused struggles across the rest of the team.

To emphasize this point, Wilson is on pace for 4167 yards, 16 TDs, and 6 INTs. The passing game struggles have been evident on the stat sheet, as Wilson already has five games this season where he has not thrown a single touchdown, as compared to last season where he averaged 2 TDs per game and threw at least one touchdown in all 16 games.

By comparison, Newton is on pace for 3,537 yards, 18 TDs, and 11 INTs, a far cry from the 3,837 yards, 35 TDs, and 10 INTs he put up last year. Newton had two games in 2015 where he failed to throw a TD pass, and through 12 weeks this season he is has two games with zero TD passes.

So what can we expect this Sunday? Probably something resembling their week 6 matchup in 2015 that featured a lot of offense, not much defense, and came down to a touchdown with less than a minute to play that gave Newton his first win against Russell Wilson. Newton would follow it up with a 31-0 halftime lead in the divisional round of the playoffs, with Wilson getting within 31-24 before running out of game clock.

In six matchups since the 2012 season including two showdowns in the playoffs, these teams have ended the game separated by a single score in five contests, levelling each other in defensive affairs in the first four games, and then exploding for 105 combined points during their two games in 2015.

This Sunday’s matchup should feature a lot of scoring, and two teams desperate to get their season back on track. After close wins over Buffalo, New England, and Philadelphia before coming to a halt in Tampa, Seattle has come back down to earth and needs a signature win to get some consistency going. With four of their wins coming against teams with winning records, Seattle needs to avoid overlooking Carolina and put the Panthers away early. Carolina has gone 3-2 since their bye week, but all four of their wins this season have come against teams with losing records, and a win against Seattle could get them feeling confident enough to beat elite teams again.

Seattle struggled against Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, and Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin have the size and ability to catch the ball in traffic that could give the Seahawks the same problems they couldn’t solve last week. The home crowd should aid matters, as Seattle typically plays much better at home than they do as the visiting team.

It may not look like the same matchup we drooled over the last few years, but these teams still have plenty to play for and a lot of pride on the line. Seattle holds a 4-2 edge in the series since 2012, and while Cam would love to show up Wilson on his home field for the second year in a row, Seattle should beat Carolina and avenge the loss that ended their 2015 playoffs.

Seahawks He Said/She Said: Splitting picks against New Orleans

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Seahawks He Said/She Said: Splitting picks against New Orleans

Oregon Sports News writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath discuss and predict the week eight matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (4–1–1) and the New Orleans Saints (2–4).

When: 10 a.m. PT Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA.

Rogers: With all the discussion lately about the NFL being in a death spiral of declining TV ratings due to a bevy of bummers, the last thing the league needed was a dud of a primetime showcase game between two supposed playoff contenders, the Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals. But boy, was that game ever a snooze fest.

Unless you stuck with it until the end. Where the inept, sizzle-less performances on both sides that ended in a regulation tie of 3–3 gave way to an even more improbable 6–6 tie that excitingly(ish) concluded with two almost impossibly shanked missed chip shot field goals by both Stephen Hauschka and Chandler Catanzaro.

And so, we were left with a tie. Which, in all honesty, I very nearly thought about making my prediction for the game, but I dismissed that notion as far too likely to be wrong. So I had a feeling and went against it. I feel like I lost twice, which is probably akin to the feeling the Seahawks and Cardinals have over Sunday night’s sister kisser.

If you have a punting fetish, this game was ecstasy for you.

For the rest of us, we’re left to ponder two things about the Seayawns: Is Sunday’s offensive output of 11 total first downs through five quarters of play and 3/14 on third-down conversions the new Seahawks’ offensive brand? NFL teams often get figured out at this point in the season — did the Seahawks get figured out?

Or is this game just an aberration? Jess, what do you think?

Ridpath: I think we’re seeing the consequences of Russell Wilson’s lack of mobility. The Seahawks’ offensive line is not performing quite as poorly as they did last year. But Seattle’s offensive numbers are vastly different this season compared to last.

In 2015, the blue birds were ranked fourth in total offense and converted 47% of their third downs. Right now, their offense is ranked 22nd and is only 36% on third-down conversions.

We can’t blame this steep decline on the passing game. In the air, Wilson is keeping pace with last year’s average yards per game (259.8 in 2016 versus 251.1 in 2015). And he’s throwing fewer interceptions to boot (0.5% versus 1.7%). But his rushing stats tell a completely different story: 5.5 yards per carry and 34.6 yards per game in 2015, compared to a scant 1.5 yards per carry and 5.5 yards per game so far this season.

With Wilson looking “about as nimble as an aging Joe Namath on two bum knees,” the Seahawks have lost much of the magic he brought to the table: that amazing ability to scramble away from the defense and keep drives alive. That’s giving opposing defenses a lot less to worry about.

To be fair, it’s not just Wilson’s mobility that’s dragging Seattle’s offense down: It’s their entire ground game. With only 3.1 yards per carry and 82.7 yards per game (ranked 27thin the league overall), it seems the Seahawks have kissed their elite rushing status goodbye.

And when that walked out the door, so it seems did their ability to score points. They’ve scored a mere 111 total points in six games and are tied for last in the league in points scored (alongside Chicago). With numbers like that, you’d expect to see far fewer tallies in Seattle’s win column. The difference-maker has, of course, been their formidable defense.

Julian, without a solid rushing attack, are the Seahawks relying too much on the defense to continually save their asses? And if so, how can they bring their ground game back to life?

Rogers: I don’t think Christine Michael is the problem. I believe he’s part of the solution. My eyeballs tell me Michael is still low-to-the-ground, slithery fast. The holes just aren’t there. Worse, defenses know Wilson is no threat to keep it on the read-option, so they can focus on crashing down on every play that appears to be a run down. Second-level defenders are free to get on Michael fast.

Wilson has to make defenses pay through the air. He’s become a reluctant pocket passer, which is foreign territory for the Seahawks offense. The good news: It will almost certainly pay off later in the season. The bad news: For now, the Seahawks aren’t one-dimensional, they’re no-dimensional, if the last game is any guide.

It comes down to the offensive line, which is the weakest link by far on the 2016 team. A situation made worse now that George Fant is going to have to take over for Bradley Sowell at left tackle. Penalties have also been a factor. Expecting a miraculous leap toward offensive line play excellence is highly unlikely. The Seahawks are going to have to mix and match, throwing short to Jimmy Graham and the elusive Doug Baldwin and let them create yards after the catch.

The Seahawks are going to have to throw to loosen things up for the run game — the antithesis of Seahawks football.

Which is not great when you’re opposite the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense. Both teams offer bottom-third rushing offenses: Seattle is ranked 27th; New Orleans is ranked 28th. But the Saints sport no less than four receivers averaging better than 12 yards per reception: Brandin Cooks (15.2), Willie Snead (13.7), tight end Coby Fleener (13.4) and rookie sensation Michael Thomas (12.1). The surprise good news: So do the Seahawks. Graham (15.1), Paul Richardson (13.8), Tyler Lockett (12.7) and Baldwin (12.6). The bad news: The Saints’ top four receivers managed their average over 107 receptions, while the Seahawks’ top four impact receivers managed their average over a more pedestrian (yes, I said it) 80.

The difference is more about what defense each offense will go up against. The Seahawks’ offense gets to play against the 29th ranked unit. The Seahawks (6th) will be the best defense the Saints have faced so far in 2016. Jess, how do you think the Legion of Boom will handle the Saints’ explosive passing game?

Ridpath: If you had asked me that question before last Sunday’s game, I would have had few concerns. But after watching the Seahawks’ defenders work their butts off for more than 46 minutes in Phoenix (becoming just the third defense to spend that much time on the field since 2000), I’m worried about how well they’ll hold up for their second road game in a row.

Richard Sherman couldn’t even walk without assistance after giving his all to holdLarry Fitzgerald to just 70 yards last week. Even world-class athletes have limits, and Seattle’s lackluster offense seems to be pushing their invaluable defensive backs to the brink. I hate to say it, but if this trend continues, overwork-induced injuries won’t be far behind. With Kam Chancellor still nursing a groin injury, the Seahawks can’t afford to lose any more star defenders.

Seattle’s offense needs to step up and give their defense (and especially their secondary) a break. I have no doubt that the Seahawks’ defenders have the talent and the will to continue to carry this team. But they shouldn’t have to.

Julian, I absolutely agree that it all comes down to the offensive line — and that a giant leap forward is unlikely. However, facing the Saints’ soft defense may provide the perfect opportunity to take some modest steps in the right direction. If they succeed, they’ll give Wilson and Michael a chance to resurrect the Seahawks’ offense. I have no doubt that both players are poised to capitalize on any openings the o-line can give them. Prediction: Seattle 24, New Orleans 17.

Rogers: I’ve gone back and forth on who I think will win this one. The talk in ‘Nawlins is the return of Jimmy Graham. I think he’ll have a significant day, but I think the Saints’ passing offense will keep humming too. My wild guess prediction is that a significant penalty by the Seahawks is going to decide this one late. Prediction: New Orleans 23, Seattle 21.

 

Owning up
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: The wife and I bought a new car together without losing our sanity or threatening divorce. That’s got to count.

What he got wrong: The game winner, because there was none. Nobody’s a winner when that many players are going around kissing their sisters. I’m 3–3 on the season.

What she got right: With neither Wilson nor Carson Palmer at full strength, I expected a defensive battle. (Did either offense even play last week? I can’t remember…)

What she got wrong: The game winner, bringing me to 3–3 on the season. I was only off by 40 points in predicting the combined final score. That’s about as close as Hauschka was on his failed field goal attempt.

Week 7 Preview: Seahawks look to put clamp on division agains Cardinals

Week 7 Preview: Seahawks look to put clamp on division agains Cardinals

Cam Newton. Brock Osweiler. Aaron Rodgers. Viewers. The entire Cleveland Browns organization.

There have been many disappointments to start the NFL season, many of them (except Cleveland) stemming from failed expectations. It’s early, but six weeks in, we’re starting to realize that some things we thought were givens simply won’t be the case.

Perhaps no story was more baffling than the start the Arizona Cardinals got off to. An opening night loss to the Patriots would be excusable if it weren’t for the fact it was Jimmy Garoppolo, not Tom Brady, taking the snaps for New England.

The low point in their start was undoubtedly a 17-13 loss at home to the Rams, which dropped them to 1-3 and had pundits scratching their heads. For a team like Arizona, which many believed to the favorites in the NFC West, questions began to swirl about where their season was headed.

But, as Bruce Arians-led teams are known to do, the Cardinals suddenly find themselves back in the thick of things.

After back-to-back wins – the latest a 28-3 beat down of the New York Jets – Arizona is 3-3, healthy, and feeling like they're one big win away from reabsorbing the title of favorites in the West.

Enter, Seattle.

The Seahawks, fresh off their somewhat controversial win over Atlanta, will head to Arizona with two missions in mind: lock in their first road win of the year against a formidable for, and put a stranglehold on the division. At 4-1, Seattle is hitting their stride after a Week 2 loss to the Rams, and seem to have the inside track; assuming, of course, that they can stay healthy and not lose mental focus.

Because at this point, that may be their biggest challenge: complacency. After Sunday’s matchup against the Cardinals, only a November 10th trip to Foxboro stands in their way of being favorites in all of their remaining games.

After the Seahawks’ win over Atlanta, where the secondary was unpardonably mistake-laden, Seattle faces their second straight high octane offense. While the Cardinals have been inconsistent, they still have Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, and Carson Palmer. Now in his 13th season, Palmer – who is 23rd in the NFL in total QBR, far below his usual ranking – has had an incredulously up and down season. In a Week 3 loss to the Bills, he threw four picks with no touchdowns. His 60.4% completion percentage is his lowest since 2008 when he was with the Bengals.

Arizona’s offense, in general, has found some life in David Johnson; they possess the 10th best offense in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Defensively, Chandler Jones – formerly of the Patriots – has been a revelation. In Sunday’s win over the Jets, Jones posted the highest defensive rating in the game; New York simply had no way of stopping him.

If Arizona has any dreams of winning the NFC West, Sunday is a must win. Falling three games behind the Seahawks will all but close the door on that, especially with Seattle looking at, ostensibly, a 10-1 or 11-0 finish. With two matchups against the ‘hawks left, Arizona must get both to have a chance.

Both teams enter Sunday riding a wave of confidence, but from different stratospheres. Seattle has figured their offense out; their defense is stout as ever.

Arizona survived their early season struggles, and are hoping their AARP-led offensive stars, Fitzgerald and Palmer, can stay healthy to put together a win.

 

Prediction

Seattle 21 Arizona 17

 

Fantasy

It’s official: Seattle finally knows how to use their tight end. It’s not a one or two game thing; Jimmy Graham is once again a bona fide weapon. In his last three game – all wins, coincidentally – he has amassed 302 yards. Or, put another way, 85% of his total yards this season. Another way to look at it? He’s already at 58% of his total yards from all of last season.

Arizona’s defense, 6th in the NFL in overall rating, possesses one of the best secondaries in the NFL with Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, and Co. But they’ll have their hands full with the likes of Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and Jermaine Kearse. With attention being paid to them deep, look for Graham to again exploit the underneath and middle of the field.

And guess what? Russell Wilson now knows where to find him.

 

Sherman's performance raises questions

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USATI

Sherman's performance raises questions

How big do we make this?

When an anomaly occurs, as did Sunday afternoon in CenturyLink field, there are two ways to react to it: Accept it as such, move on, and start new.

Or, look for signs of further damage.

If Richard Sherman and the secondary’s performance on Sunday was, in fact, an anomaly, then the season will stay on track. Before the game – against the #1 offense in the NFL, mind you – the Seahawks’ defense had been downright staunch. They led the league in points allowed (15.6), yards allowed per game (283.6) and are top-5 in many other categories.  

They were also without their enforcer, Cam Chancellor. And if he was at all underappreciated before, those thoughts are now gone. As I mentioned in our weekly Hawks Talk podcast yesterday, what Chancellor brings to the table cannot be measured in statistical variables. His impact is measured in heart and terror, not run yards allowed.

What Atlanta accomplished in the third quarter was not taking advantage of schematic mistakes by the Seahawks. If they were, those could be easily amended. What the Falcons capitalized on – and that’s something all good teams will do – was take advantage of Seattle’s mental miscues.

Blown coverages. Miscommunication. Guys zigging when they should be zagging. All of the clichéd terms that get thrown around in those situations are apropos for the Seahawks’ performance.

That it happened to the secondary is disturbing. That Sherman was picked apart is worse.

For years, Sherman has been the fulcrum of the entire defense. His emotions - his vitriol towards opponents, his unwavering confidence - all of it formed who he was as a player. It shaped the Seahawks’ entire identity.

But on Sunday Sherman was simply outdone by a better player. Julio Jones toyed with him, and it became worse as the game went on. According to Pro Football Focus:

“On the downside, Richard Sherman (37.2 overall grade versus Falcons) struggled, targeted seven times by Matt Ryan, yielding five completions for 92 yards, and having some coverage busts that almost cost the Seahawks the game. Against Julio Jones specifically, Sherman had five targets into his coverage, surrendering three receptions to Jones for 40 yards.”

Sherman turned 28 earlier this year. He’s by no means on the downside of his career. And, in reality, because he’s so often avoided by opposing quarterbacks, his usage rate is on the low end. The number of hits he’s taken is minuscule compared to most players his age. But at some point, playing the position he does, the physical skills will begin to fade. Even losing one step as a cornerback can mean the difference between being an All-Pro player and not.

Is Sherman at that point? Not yet. Was his performance on Sunday concerning? Yes. Is it a sign of something bigger? Only time will tell.

Seattle’s schedule going forward is favorable, but one thing that will be constant is the talent they’ll face at quarterback:

Brees. Brady. Wentz. Winston. Newton. Rodgers.

There won’t be many opportunities for the mental mishaps to continue if Seattle wants to make this season as special as it looks like it could be. While they’ll be prohibitive favorites in almost all of those games, if Sunday’s performance is a trend and not an abnormality, suddenly, all of those games they should win become much more difficult.

If there’s one guy you can’t count out, it’s Sherman. From Compton to Stanford, to best corner in the league, he’s not immune to overcoming adversity. And if anyone looks at the film today and is seething, it’s him. This coming week against Arizona is a perfect opportunity for him to get back on the wagon and reestablish his position in the pecking order of DBs in the NFL.

But a repeat performance, with heads turned sideways, and coverages blown beyond recognition? Then, the anomaly is gone, and bigger issues remain.

He Said/She Said: Hawks welcome Falcons to town in Week 6

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He Said/She Said: Hawks welcome Falcons to town in Week 6

Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week six matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (3–1) and the Atlanta Falcons (4–1).

When: 1:25 p.m. PT Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016 
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.

Rogers: There is no better way to spend a bye week than to play no football but still get elevated to the top of your division standings. The Seahawks achieved that when the Los Angeles Rams dropped a home game to the suddenly hot Buffalo Bills, leaving Seattle all alone at the top of the NFC West.

We turn our attention to the second-most surprising NFC team of the season: The Atlanta Falcons (second only to the 5–0 Minnesota Vikings). The Seahawks catch a scheduling break in facing the Falcons at home after a week of rest at the same time as the Falcons make the cross-country trip to Seattle after winning on the road last week in Denver.

Few defenses have an answer for All-World wide receiver Julio Jones. But the Denver Broncos defense managed to hold Jones to a workmanlike 29 yards on a mere two catches — 271 fewer yards than he put up just a week before. It wasn’t enough to win, in large part due to the breakout game by Tevin Coleman (four catches, 132 yards receiving, 31-yard TD catch).

Jess, which of these two will be more of a headache for the Legion of Boom on Sunday?

Ridpath: I was curious what happened the last time Jones faced off against Seattle’s defense. I was thinking 2013, when Seattle beat Atlanta in the regular season but lost to them in in the Divisional Playoffs. But it was actually way back in 2011, Jones’ rookie year (he was injured in 2013).

The outcome five years ago? He nabbed 11 catches for 127 yards facing off against a Seahawks secondary that looks awfully familiar (including rookie Richard Sherman and sophomores Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor).

Jones has been hot and cold this season (with disappointing yardage in weeks 1, 3, and 5) and is no longer the league’s leading receiver after last week’s yardage drought (he’s now ranked third). But he is still an obvious threat. No doubt the Seahawks’ secondary will treat him as such. I think they’re up to the task.

The bigger threat comes from Atlanta’s “two-headed backfield”: Coleman and fellow running back Devonta Freeman, who’ve combined to give the league’s #1 passing offense the boon of a 6th-ranked run game. That’s scary. Even scarier? How the Falcons’ dual air-ground attack rolled over Denver’s stalwart defense, which gave up season highs in points, total yards, passing yards, and yards per play.

Julian, Coleman racked up most of his receiving yards last week by lining up in the slot and taking advantage of Denver’s linebackers. Are K.J. WrightBobby WagnerCassius Marsh, and their compatriots any better suited for the task of covering him?

Rogers: Those three, plus Cliff Avril who occasionally drops back to cover receivers, are excellent athletes, but are overall better suited for thumping than chasing/covering. Seattle’s best coverage linebacker is Wright. However, if you add Kevin Pierre-Louis &Brock Coyle to the players you named, and add up all passes defensed plus interceptions, you get a total of two passes defensed, both by Wagner. No picks from the linebackers.

That’s not necessarily a concern, but it suggests the Seahawks’ linebackers / defensive ends’ as coverage players are not so very impactful. The compact, fluid and fast Coleman has the matchup advantage for this contest.

Yes, I agree that the Seahawks will focus plenty on stopping Jones, but I’m certain they’re also planning on making sure they know what Coleman is doing on every play. The Seahawks don’t usually have Sherman follow No. 1 receivers around the formation; he stays on his side. He may have some opportunities to match up on Coleman, as well as probably a collection of linebackers, as you noted. Freeman will likely handle most of the rushing duties and he’s excelling at it: 5.3 YPC on 48 rushes so far for the NFL’s No. 1 offense.

Jess, the Seahawks under Pete Carroll have a spotty history right after a bye. They lost their first game after a bye in 2015 (vs. Arizona), 2012 (at Miami), 2011 (at Cleveland), making them a somewhat surprising .500 in games immediately following a week off. Is this a thing for Carroll’s blue birds? His post bye week record as the head coach of the New York Jets and the New England Patriots is even worse: 1–3.

Ridpath: Carroll may have done the same bye-week math that you did, Julian, because the Seahawks were on the field Monday for a “bonus” practice. Perhaps he’s hoping an extra workout will help Seattle shake off the rust that can build during a week off.

Or perhaps he just realizes that his squad is facing this season’s toughest challenge yet. By far. ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia has astutely observed that facing the Falcons will be “a good test of where this team is.” Among his points:

  • Seattle’s three victories have come against teams who have a combined record of 3–12 (the Dolphins, 49ers, and Jets).
  • While the Seahawks’ #1-ranked defense has allowed a mere 13.5 points per game so far, they’ve done it while playing the league’s softest offenses.

From this perspective, the blue birds’ defensive performance this season (2nd in passing defense and opponent passer rating; 3rd in scoring defense, with just one touchdown allowed) seems decidedly less impressive. The Falcons on-fire offense has the potential to bring them down a notch a two.

Julian, we’ve already talked about the many offensive threats in Atlanta’s arsenal. Let’s talk about their defense. Last week, the Falcons surprised Denver with a formidable pass rush, taking Paxton Lynch to the turf six times and holding the Broncos to a mediocre 3.5 yards per carry. Will Seattle fare any better?

Rogers: If you’re asking me to project a clean pocket for Wilson in this game, I can’t. I’ve learned (again and again) to not doubt Wilson, but the blue birds’ offensive line still ranks among the league’s worst.

However, the Falcons, who nabbed six sacks in Denver after amassing a mere four in their previous four games, won in circumstances far different than what they’ll encounter in Seattle. Namely, the Broncos were playing a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start and he looked very much like a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. Lynch was slow to diagnose and execute plays and also held onto the ball longer than is designed for the Broncos’ offense. That’s a juicy set of menu items for even a team with a sub-par pass rush.

Wilson won’t be as easy a target as Lynch. I say cut the six sacks in half on this Sunday.

Jess, the Minnesota Vikings are this year’s last undefeated team. For now, the race is for the NFC’s silver medal. I have to put Seattle and Atlanta as the top two NFC contenders not from Minnesota. Is this a statement game?

Ridpath: It’s certainly an intriguing match-up, especially considering that Falcons coach Dan Quinn used to be the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator. That familiarity will give both teams some interesting insight and will up the ante a bit for Quinn.

I think you’re absolutely right that these two teams are currently among the NFC’s top three contenders. If it’s a close game, well-played on both sides, that won’t change — no matter which team is victorious. If Seattle wins by a largish margin, we can point to home field advantage as an obvious edge. But if Atlanta delivers a sound thumping like they did in Denver, two clear statements will be made: 1) the rest of the league should be very afraid of the Falcons, and 2) Seattle’s position as a top playoff contender may be in question.

Julian, I can’t recall a game that has been tougher for me to predict than this one. As much as I would love to see a Seahawks victory, my gut feeling is that the Falcons’ multi-faceted offense is too hot for even Seattle’s formidable defense to handle. And even if Wilson is at his superhero best, I’m worried about his o-line’s ability to both open up the run game and handle Atlanta’s surging pass rush. It pains me to say it, but I gotta give this one to the Falcons. Prediction: Seattle 23, Atlanta 27.

Rogers: It’s the NFL’s No. 1 offense going against the No. 1 defense. Should be a good test for both teams. I’m going the other way on this one. I see the Seahawks as a more well-rounded team at this stage. Plus, they’re playing at home. Prediction: Seattle 27, Atlanta 24.

 

Owning up
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: I went out on a limb and picked the New England Patriots to beat the Cleveland Browns. Whew.

What he got wrong: Why so negative? Why is everybody so obsessed with pointing out what went wrong? Can’t we all just get along?

What she got right: I outperformed my esteemed colleague in our week- 5 predictions, calling 6 of the 9 match-ups correctly—thanks to victories by the Patriots, Steelers, Bills, Vikings, Cardinals, and Falcons. Atlanta showed they can beat a top-ranked defense on the road. I sort of wish I hadn’t been right about that one.

What she got wrong: My three blown predictions? The Eagles dropped a close one to the Lions; the Cam-less Panthers fell to the Buccaneers; and the Bengals got steamrolled by the Cowboys.

Week 6 Preview: WIlson, Ryan prepare for shootout

Week 6 Preview: WIlson, Ryan prepare for shootout

Fresh legs. Fresh minds. One long, tranquil stretch of games to finish the season.

For the Seattle Seahawks, a season that at one time seemed to be teetering on the edge of doom now sets up perfectly for a triumphant return to the elite.

After their Week 2 loss in Los Angeles, the Seahawks looked as lost as we’ve seen them under Pete Carroll. The offense was irrelevant; the health of their franchise quarterback was eroding; and with the emergence of the Rams, it appeared another NFC West obstacle had made themselves known.

But three wins later, a return to health for Russell Wilson, and a come-back-to-earth week for the rest of the conference, the Seahawks once again are surrounded by the good vibes that hovered over the team before the season began.

But before the schedule slides fully into pre-Harbaugh Big 10 levels of navigability, the NFLs hottest team, the Atlanta Falcons, bring their forceful offense into CenturyLink Field.

Despite the all-world defense of the Seahawks, this game will come down to the battle at QB.

Wilson, who has transformed seemingly overnight from a scrambling, semi-accurate playmaker into a reliable pocket passer, ranks out as the third best overall quarterback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.

“Russell Wilson has faced his usual diet of pressure behind the Seahawks’ offensive line this season, as he’s been under heat on 38.3 percent of his dropbacks, the fourth-highest rate in the league. That’s actually lower than his normal rate and is playing a large part in his career-low 2.54 seconds from snap to throw—over 0.4 seconds quicker than last year’s 2.98 marks. Playing injured and not extending plays is likely a factor, but regardless, it’s led to quicker, shorter passes, and one of the league’s best grades in the short game.”

His counterpart, Matt Ryan, isn’t far behind, coming in at #8 on the list. It's an odd ranking, considering what has he accomplished this season:

League leader in yards, yards per attempt, and passer rating. No big deal.

More importantly for Atlanta, he’s not only playing the best football of his career statistically, but he’s getting help from his star-laden supporting cast (i.e., Julio Jones) as well. Ryan, after his handcuffed run under Mike Smith, is finally showing off the skill set that made him such a high pick coming out of Boston College. And while Jones is the headliner – especially after his 300-yards performance against Carolina two weeks ago -  it’s been the wealth spread that’s allowed for the blistering start. In last Sunday’s win over defending Super Bowl champion Denver, for example, three of the top five graded offensive players were linemen.

When Ryan and Jones have time to connect, and outlets behind them to subset the pressure, Atlantic instantaneously rockets to the top of the toughest-to-defend category.

To counter the offensive onslaught of Atlanta, currently ranked 1st-overall, Seattle, who will be 14 days of rest in, will send out the 2nd-best defense in the NFL, according to PFF. After some early season mental slips, Seattle appears to be in mid-season form, evident from their past two wins by a combined score of 64-35. The 35 is misleading, to boot; San Francisco piled on with two late TDs, and the Jets scratched out a score right before halftime in the Seahawks’ last game.

When engaged, Seattle’s defense has been as lockdown as ever before.

After the Falcons, Seattle’s next three opponents have a combined record of 6-8. With 12 straight weeks of football to end the season, Carroll and his staff will have to be smart in how the divvy up usage. And with Wilson already suffering two injuries in the first four games, it’s an even more precarious situation. Matchups at New England and Green Bay look to be the only toss-ups; every game should see the Seahawks as favorites going forward. That leaves this week’s battle against Atlanta, a potential NFC title game showdown, as one of the few opportunities for Seattle test their mettle against the NFLs elite.

Also – and it’s never too early to look at these sorts of things – this game could go a long way towards settling home field advantage should they, in fact, meet in the playoffs.

"Their offense is just out of this world right now," Carroll said earlier this week. "Their quarterback is on fire."

The same could be said about his own. On Sunday, they’ll get to settle it on the field.

 

Prediction

Atlanta 24  Seattle 21

 

Fantasy

With the Falcons possessing one of the stronger pass rushing attacks in the league, led by Vic Beasley, this looks like the week for Wilson to get back to his scrambling ways. Look for him to get three touchdowns - two on the ground, one in the air - to be your safe fantasy bet. 

Carroll, Quinn set for clash

Carroll, Quinn set for clash

It may not have been the most glamorous game on the schedule to start the season, but that doesn’t mean things can’t change in a fun, campy sort of way.

On Sunday, for the second week in a row, the NFL’s most electrifying offense gets a chance to prove their mettle against the stingiest, nastiest defense (sorry, Denver).

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones vs. Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett. Atlanta vs. Seattle.

Dan Quinn vs. Pete Carroll.

It would have all the makings of an early season Super Bowl preview, if there wasn’t the small little caveat that Atlanta did this whole dog-and-pony show last season, only to founder under the weight of their own deficiencies.

Last season, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn – former defensive coordinator of the Seahawks, who helped propel them to the franchise’s only title in 2014 – took over for the oft-denigrated Mike Smith, and instantaneously messed everything up. Even though the Falcons roared out of the gate to a 5-0 start, the stylings of Quinn – defense – clashed with the personnel strengths of the team – offense.

It was a contrast of styles that would go horribly wrong; the team finished the season on a 3-8 streak (losing six in a row at one point); missed the playoffs; and left many wondering if the talents of quarterback Matt Ryan would ever be fully realized.

Since then, savvy moves and internal growth have seemingly transformed the team overnight. Much the same way Seattle built their championship-caliber rosters in the early 2010s.

On Sunday the Falcons went into defending Super Bowl champions Denver, and completely owned the defensive side of the ball. Last season, this scenario would have been hard to see (Atlanta finished a respectable 14th overall in points per game at 21.2), but was never able to rely on that side of the ball consistently.

But behind the emergence of pass rusher Vic Beasley – who had four sacks alone on Sunday – the Falcons seem to have the combination of fruitful youth (Keanu Neal, just 21 years old, graded out the highest for the Falcons), and veteran leadership (see: Adrian Clayborn), the Falcons have a unit capable of winning games even if their high-flying offense takes a week off.

Quinn was viewed as sort of a fulcrum for the Seahawks. His unit often determined the overall feats of success. When Wilson was drafted in 2011, the keys to the franchise were essentially turned over to the defense. And although his stint in the Emerald City was short, Quinn’s unit was other-worldly. In his first season as coordinator, Seattle led the league in fewest points allowed, fewest yards allowed and takeaways.

Most impressively, he did so on a team littered with talented, but brazenly young players. His ability to mold and teach was surely a huge draw for the Falcons.

Before his arrival, the Mike Smith era had fallen flat. In 2014, they bottomed out at 6-10; Smith, for all the head accomplished, had run his course. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were being wasted. The window of opportunity that two franchise players like that have is so finite that a change had to be made. In Quinn, the Falcons found the perfect blend of toughness and organization. And, based on what they had seen in Seattle, the perfect blueprint for success.

If you can’t beat them, steal one of their best.

Last year, when he was named head coach, his former boss, Pete Carroll, widely praised the move. “To me, he was a logical choice because he had been with us,” Carroll said. “He is special. Dan is a tremendous football coach, a great communicator, and a great leader.”

Quinn also counts Nick Saban as a mentor. Between Carroll, a 64-year-old goofball, and Saban, a mechanical, relentless perfectionist, Quinn brings with him the best of both worlds.

“I remember that they had a deep belief in the philosophy they had in place. Though one was engaging from a personality standpoint and wanted the players in with him and the other was more polarizing and on the players,” he told Bleacher Report least year. “That way was different. But having an organized vision of how they wanted their programs run was really similar. The programs weren't run in the same fashion, but the attention to detail was.”

On Sunday, the classic teacher-vs-mentor relationship gets to play out. Two of the hottest teams in the league, built in strikingly similar fashion, face off for the first time this season.

It may not be the last.

He Said/She Said: Seahawks Bye Week Breakdown

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He Said/She Said: Seahawks Bye Week Breakdown

Oregon Sports News football writers Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath review the first quarter of the Seattle Seahawks’ 2016 season and look at what’s to come.

The good, the bad, and the New York Jets defense

Rogers: The Seahawks are on a bye, which is to say they’ll face the same level of resistance this week as they faced in last week’s victory in East Rutherford, New Jersey. How many times do you think Tanner McEvoy has heard already that catching touchdown passes is not usually THAT easy? When zone defenders decide to ignore you as you enter their turf and then do you the additional courtesy of falling down, it makes it pretty easy to cradle gently wafted passes for touchdowns.

The hero doing the pass-wafting was the rumored-to-be-compromised Russell Wilson, who proved me wrong, among a gaggle of nay-sayers, who thought he should sit this one out. Instead of being pummeled, Wilson had his best game of the season, despite not having his usual level of escapability: 23/32 passes for 309 yards, 3 touchdowns, zero interceptions.

It’s quite an indictment of a defense’s front seven if you can’t get at a hobbled quarterback playing behind one of the NFL’s most suspect offensive lines. DangerRuss, I tip my cap* to you.

Jess, how about those Seahawks receivers? Did they not steal the show or what?

Ridpath: Three words: “Pedestrian” no more.

From Jimmy Graham nabbing a one-hander to Doug Baldwin hanging on for a clutch catch despite a brutal hit, the Seahawks receivers were in top form against the Jets. In fact, they’ve been so good all season that Seattle is currently ranked 10th in receiving yards for the 2016 regular season.

That’s right. The squad with the league’s once dominant run game is officially (for now) a top-ten receiving team. That stat intrigued me so much I did a little poking around the NFL stats page to find out the last time that happened. Take a guess.

2007. I’m not kidding. It was Bobby Engram’s second-to-last season as a Hawk, and they were ranked 7th in receiving yards. Since then, the only time they’ve come close to performing that well was 2009, when they ended the year ranked 15th.

Key in this season’s receiving renaissance is, of course, the long-awaited emergence of Graham. Among all receivers, he’s ranked 25th in yards per game (Baldwin is 10th). Among tight ends, he’s second (behind only Carolina’s Greg Olson). He’s been especially effective at long gains, logging an average of 16.6 yards per catch — which puts him fifth among all players with at least 15 catches. (All stats from nfl.com.)

As the season continues, I wouldn’t be surprise if the blue birds continue down the road of this dramatic identity transformation — led by Wilson’s newfound comfort in the pocket and his receivers’ able hands, athleticism, and versatility. It’s a surprising sea change for a team that has long hung their hats on an oppressive ground game.

Speaking of surprises, Julian, let’s talk about the status of the NFC West four weeks in. I don’t think anyone expected to see the Arizona Cardinals at the bottom of the division — nor the Los Angeles Rams at the top. What gives?

Rogers: Are you ready for your division-leading Los Angeles Rams, 12s? There have been many surprises this young season, but the current reality of the Rams being in first place (!) and owning the tiebreaker over the Seahawks is right up there with the Carson Wentzexpress, the Minnesota Vikings’ imperviousness and the Carolina Panthers’ implosion.

Add one more shocker: The Cardinals’ likewise cratering to the depths of the NFC West. Both NFC Championship teams from 2015 are off to ugly and wholly unexpected starts for such talented rosters.

The first thing you look for when top teams fall are injuries. Yes, both Cam Newton andCarson Palmer were knocked out of their last games with concussions. That’s bad. However, both teams had already forged losing records before losing their quarterbacks tothe scourge that may one day be the NFL’s undoing. Both teams are shadows of their 15–1 and 13–3 2015 seasons.

For the sake of both veteran quarterbacks, I hope they can resume their careers without doing more harm. For the sake of the Seahawks, the early jump the Seahawks have on both still likely NFC playoff contenders is not insignificant. For the Panthers, they lost to two undefeated teams and the 3–1 Atlanta Falcons. The Cardinals also lost to the 3–1 New England Patriots and the still-suspect Rams — both at home. They next face the San Francisco 49ers tonight, without Palmer. If they lose on the road in Santa Clara, things could get really ugly.

The Seahawks may be in a position to effectively end the red birds’ postseason chances when they meet on Oct. 23 in Glendale, Ariz. Because the Seahawks’ own quarterback, apparently, is impervious to injury.

Jess, now that I’ve been chastened, I can never doubt Russell Wilson again. He’ll presumably be even healthier, post-bye. Are there any ways in which the Seahawks, with a hot start behind them, are not primed for a deep playoff run?

Ridpath: Count me among the many nay-sayers who felt Wilson should have taken a week off. He proved all of us wrong — and he did it with stubborn authority. I spent much of last week criticizing his over-the-top determination, but he demonstrated (again) that he is a tough-as-nails champion … and the blue birds’ heart and soul.

Russ and his super hero cape aside, the Seahawks have many enviable assets, including a blistering defense, a receiving corps on the rise, and a run game that, while declining a bit, is still a threat (currently 11th in the league).

The obvious X factor is the offensive line. Their best game in this young season came last week in New Jersey, with rookie right guard Germain Ifedi playing in his first regular season game. The first-round pick from Texas A&M delivered a solid performance —playing all 60 snaps and receiving kudos from Pete Carroll for his pass protection.

But one good game does not a solid o-line make. And it’s hard to forget how ugly things looked in weeks 1 and 2. That said, this year’s line is performing miles above their start in 2015. After four games last season, Wilson had been sacked 18 times. Heading into this year’s week-5 bye, the sack count is half that. If Ifedi, center Justin Britt (who was praised by Pro Football Focus for his performance last week), and their fellow lineman can keep going on this trajectory, Seattle will surely be among 2016’s top playoff contenders.

Julian, it’s time to lay out some end-of-season predictions. Your challenge, should you choose to except it, is to pick the league’s eight division winners. Go.

Rogers: Here is what my crystal ball says, 25 percent of the way through the season.

NFC

West     Seattle Seahawks
North    Green Bay Packers
South    Atlanta Falcons
East       Dallas Cowboys

AFC

West     Denver Broncos
North    Pittsburgh Steelers
South    Houston Texans
East       New England Patriots

Yes, I’m taking the chalk in the AFC, but I’m predicting late-season surges for three of the four NFC teams. Poke away at it. You didn’t ask, but I’ll give you my Wild Card picks too: Eagles & Vikings in the NFC; Raiders & Ravens in the AFC.

Here’s a challenge for you, since we don’t have a Seahawks game to predict. Pick this weekend’s winners for all of the 2016 surprise teams. That includes the already mentioned Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Vikings, Panthers and Cardinals. It also includes honorable mention surprise teams like the Patriots (no Brady, no problem … now with Brady), Atlanta Falcons (NFL’s No. 1 offense), Cowboys (rookie RB leads league, rookie QB has no turnovers) and let’s also include the Broncos. Even though they are defending Super Bowl champions, they are weathering quarterback turnover during an undefeated start. Which of them will you predict to keep the magic or nightmare going?

Ridpath: I can’t poke any holes in your AFC predictions. And I think you’ve named the NFC’s post-season teams correctly — but you’ve got them sorted wrong. The Vikings will win the North, and the Eagles will be the surprise victors in the East. Green Bay and Dallas will get the Wild Cards.

On to my challenge: I’ve ranked these matchups in order from “clear advantage” to “who the hell knows”?

Patriots at Browns: He’s ba-aaack.

Jets at SteelersRyan Fitzpatrick has a bad case of interception-itis, while Pittsburgh bounced back big time after their surprising loss to the Eagles.

Buccaneers at Panthers: Ain’t no way Cam Newton is going to allow a loss at home against Tampa Bay. If he plays, of course. That’s looking pretty iffy right now.

Eagles at Lions: Wentz’s magic will continue and Philly’s third-ranked defense will smother Detroit.

Bills at Rams: Buffalo’s gotta be feelin’ it after shutting out the Pats. Their stout defense will dominate once again.

Texans at Vikings: Houston is off to a good start, but the loss of J.J. Watt is a big deal. Minnesota (#2 in this week’s power rankings) will have their number.

Bengals at Cowboys: A.J. Green killed it last week, and Andy Dalton had his best game of the season. Dez Bryant might be back. If he’s not, advantage Cincinnati.

Cardinals at 49ers: This should be an easy game to predict, but Arizona’s loss to the Rams last week makes it a head scratcher. This will be a desperation win for the Cards.

Falcons at Broncos: My gut says the league’s #1 offense will best the #4 defense, even though they’re playing in Denver.

Rogers: I agree with you on Patriots over Browns (c’mon!), Steelers over Jets, Panthers over Buccaneers (Even if Derek Anderson has to start) and Eagles over Lions. Even though I do think the Rams are playing over their heads, I believe they will take down the Bills at home, who have only scored 23 points combined in their two road games.

I’ll side with you on the Vikings keeping it going against the Texans at home. But we diverge on the rest: I will take the Cowboys at home over the Bengals who are only averaging 19.5 points per game this season. My gut tells me the 49ers will rise up tonight to take down the wounded Cardinals. I also think the Denver defense can hold down the Falcons’ surprising offense enough to win in Denver.

Owning up
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: I did make good on my season-opening prediction of the Seahawks starting at least 3–1 (although I lost faith in that prediction when Wilson got banged up). I stated Graham was hitting his stride now. Imagine how good the blue birds will be if he keeps this up.

What he got wrong: The game winner. I’m 2–2 on the season. I thought Wilson should give way to Boykin. Wasn’t necessary.

What she got right: The game winner, lifting me to 3–1 … one game up on my worthy opponent. I praised both Graham and Baldwin, and they continued to prove they deserve every word. I also expected Seattle’s defense would be too much for the off-kilter Jets. Four sacks and three interceptions later, they proved me right.

What she got wrong: I was ready to go all in for Boykin because I assumed Russell Wilson was human and would need time to heal. Wrong. Evidently, I need to buy stock in Nanobubbles.

* I don’t wear a cap. It’s sunny and moderate where I live. Plus, It’s not 1943. 

With Seattle on their bye, the rest of the NFL takes center stage

With Seattle on their bye, the rest of the NFL takes center stage

With the Seahawks fully entrenched in their bye week, this is a good time to take a look at the rest of the NFL. Yep, I know: there is, in fact, more to the NFL than what's taking place in Seattle. And, despite what you may think, it consists of more than Odell Beckham, Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick’s body position during the national anthem.

There are actual interesting stories out there. So, let’s highlight them.

 

Sam Bradford: We could highlight the entire Minnesota Vikings franchise here, to be honest. They lost their franchise backfield to start the season (Adrian Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater), and they are fighting the unimaginable hangover that persists from their playoff loss to the Seahawks last season. Now, they’re relying on the oft-damaged legs, arms, and mental state of Sam Bradford.

Yes, that Sam Bradford.

But I, for one, am not surprised at the turn of events. Because Bradford’s coordinator, Norv Turner, is the true quarterback whisperer. Football people much smarter than myself talked openly about the impact Turner could have on the career of Bradford; a 4-0 start, efficient play, and a revitalized career later, turns out they were right.

Los Angeles Rams: To be honest, four weeks ago, there was no way to envision the Rams being on the positive part of the list. An opening night loss to the 49ers – 28-0 – was as ugly and deflating as the score suggests. The franchise’s long-awaited return to the City of Angels thankfully (for them) fared better when they took down Seattle in their first home game since 1994. Since then they've managed, behind an suffocating defense, to get to 3-1 and, for the moment at least, keep the attention of the ever-fickle LA audience.

Not everyone is buying in, but so far, despite the frightening absence of #1 overall pick Jared Goff, things look good for the Rams.

New England’s (other, other) QBs: I’m not going to mention (insert normal starting QBs name here). He’ll be back this week. You’ll hear enough.

The real story of the Patriots this season, in which they’ve been reduced to starting their third-string rookie quarterback, has been that they don’t miss a beat. At all. Ever. Jimmy Garopplo, the supposed heir apparent to The Hair, in his first ever start? Dominant win, on the road, against supposed NFC West favorite Arizona.

Jacoby Brissett, the rookie, lightly regarded, from an unsuccessful NC State program? Why not. 2-1 as a starter, despite a laundry list of injuries. People can openly acknowledge their vitriol toward the Patriot Way, but it’s time to stop. They simply know what they’re doing. And now, that guy is coming back.

Dallas Cowboys' rookies: This may be the most surprising story of the season. Dak Prescott was certainly well-regarded in college; he single-handedly turned the Mississippi State program around. But he showed questionable judgment leading up to the draft, fell to the fourth round and was viewed by many as a whiff for the Cowboys, a franchise in desperate need of a quality backup to Tony Rome.

And now, here we are.

At 3-1, with a close loss in the opening week to the Giants their only blemish, Prescott, along with first-round pick Ezekiel Elliott, have completely revitalized a dormant organization. Prescott has been all that the ever-daring Romo wasn’t: smooth, turnover-free and efficient.

Elliott is leading the NFL in rushing, giving Cowboys fans electrifying visions back to the early-90s. When you combine Dez Bryant, it’s hard not to look at the core of Prescott, Elliott, and Bryant as the 21st-century version of…nah, can’t make that comparison yet. But, boy…Dallas has something special brewing.

I almost included Jimmy Graham in this list, as he even cracked Pro Football Focus’s list for top-10 players last week, but something tells me he’ll get plenty of love going forward.

The season is merely a quarter over, but themes are starting to be set. The usuals – Seattle, New England, and Denver – are legit. The other usuals – Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Detroit – are bad. John Elway may be the best GM in the league. Seattle and Denver will battle to the end for the league’s best defense – but both have warts (hello, Seahawks’ offensive line!).

It’s too early to make predictions, especially considering some of the presumed favorites (Carolina, Arizona) have looked nothing like we thought. But if the first four weeks are any indication, this season is headed for a turbulent finish.