Eagles-Seahawks thoughts: Chance to send message now and into future

Eagles-Seahawks thoughts: Chance to send message now and into future

8:30 p.m. on NBC
Eagles favored by 5 1/2

Handicappers have installed the Eagles as favorites against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle. The Eagles can clinch the NFC East and a playoff spot with a win on Sunday night, in Week 13, no less. Just as everybody anticipated all along!

It’s incredible to think about where the Eagles stand today, on Dec. 3, in contrast to popular opinion a little less than two months ago. The last time this team was preparing to play an opponent with a winning record, it was a three-point underdog heading into Carolina on Oct. 12. Now, the Eagles are supposed to handle one of the conference’s perennial powerhouses in one of the NFL’s toughest places to play.

Can it really be that easy?

The Eagles are 10-1, winners of nine straight. Talk of a division title or playoff berth has taken a backseat to hope for a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. But they have to get through the regular season first, and the 7-4 Seahawks — banged-up as they might be — are no pushovers. This may finally be the matchup people are taking lightly.

Or, the Eagles truly are one of the league’s dominant teams and will take care of business against an inferior opponent on the road. Either way, we’re going to learn more from this game than any other they’ve played thus far.

No place like home?
Seattle’s dominance at CenturyLink is well documented, although the mystique has taken a big hit in recent weeks. The Seahawks have lost back-to-back games in their own building, falling to the Redskins and Falcons, and dropping their home record to 3-2 in 2017.

Consecutive home losses are unusual for the Seahawks, but not a total anomaly, last occurring in 2015. Still, for a team that has a 37-8 record on its own turf since the ’12 season, it's perhaps a sign that there is something larger amiss.

Make no mistake, the Eagles will face loud noise on Sunday. Ultimately, that’s only so important if the Seahawks prove incapable of using it to their advantage.

Legion of Gloom
One of Seattle’s glaring issues is in its once-great secondary, where two All-Pro players are out with injuries and a third is hobbled. Cornerback Richard Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor are done for the season, while free safety Earl Thomas is battling a heel injury.

Not surprisingly, teams have had success throwing the ball against the Seahawks the past two weeks. Falcons and 49ers quarterbacks combined to complete 64.1 percent of passes for 396 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Those aren’t earth-shattering numbers — granted, one of those signal callers was San Fran's C.J. Beathard — but the 88.9 passer rating is nearly 10 full points better than Seattle’s 79.1 mark for the season. The defense is becoming increasingly vulnerable through the air, which bodes well for the Eagles’ aerial attack led by Carson Wentz.

MVP watch
Wentz won’t be the only candidate for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award taking the field on Sunday. Russell Wilson has a legitimate case because, let’s face it, he’s the Seahawks’ only shot at winning a game like this.

Wilson has accumulated 3,029 yards passing and another 401 on the ground. Subtract 163 yards lost on sacks, and that gives the sixth-year veteran 3,267 net yards of offense. The Seahawks have 3,994 yards of offense as a team, which means Wilson has accounted for 81.8 percent of their total production. That’s insane.

What’s more, Wilson is doing it behind a horrendous offensive line and with essentially zero help from his running backs. Love him or hate him, the guy is phenomenal, and somehow the Eagles must find a way to keep him from taking over this game. Easier said than done.

Keep out
Wilson is a unique talent, the likes of which the Eagles haven’t faced under center in some time. Maybe that’s been reflected on the scoreboard of late. Or maybe the Eagles' defense has been so stifling it doesn’t matter who is taking snaps for the opposition.

The Eagles’ D receives its fair share of praise, but maybe not enough for their smothering efforts over the past month. In the last four games, the unit has only surrendered two touchdowns, and neither of those have come in the last two contests. All told, the Eagles' defense and special teams are on the hook for just 38 points during that span — 9.5 per game.

Meanwhile, the Eagles have also scored two touchdowns defensively — a Jalen Mills interception and Nigel Bradham fumble recovery — in the last four games. In other words, the unit has scored almost as many points as it has allowed. The best offense is a good defense, indeed.

Class of the NFC?
Yes, this is a down season for the Seahawks given all their injuries, and the franchise hasn’t been quite as dominant since back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 2013 and ’14. Regardless, an Eagles win in Seattle would still feel significant.

There’s a hierarchy within the conference, and the Seahawks were one of the two teams, along with the Packers, consistently at the top. This is an elite team that’s won a lot of games this decade, and knocking Seattle off in its own building still means something.

Not as much as beating the Rams in Week 14 would, or beating the Vikings or Saints in the postseason this January would. But beating Seattle would certainly be a step in the right direction for the Eagles — maybe even a step toward establishing a new hierarchy in the NFC.

Facing misconduct investigation, Panthers owner selling team

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Facing misconduct investigation, Panthers owner selling team

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Facing a growing investigation that accuses him of sexual misconduct and using racist language at work, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced Sunday that he will sell the NFL team after the season.

The team announced on Twitter that Richardson is selling the team, linking to a five-paragraph letter by the franchise's only owner.

"I believe it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership," Richardson wrote, saying he wouldn't begin discussions until after the season. The Panthers, who lost in the Super Bowl in 2016, are in playoff position again.

"I hope everyone in the organization, both on and off the field, will be firmly focused on one mission: to play and win the Super Bowl," said Richardson, 81.

The NFL awarded Richardson, a former player with the Baltimore Colts, an expansion franchise in 1993, and he has been the team's only owner.

Richardson's letter did not directly address the investigation.

"There has been no greater mission or purpose in my life than to have brought and NFL franchise to Charlotte," Richardson wrote. "The obstacles back then were significant and some even questioned whether or community could or would support professional football. But I always knew that if given the chance the Carolina would rise to the occasion. And you have. The team has become an integral part of the community. The stadium is in its best condition since the day it opened."

Richardson attended the game Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers at Bank of America Stadium and was photographed sitting beside his wife Rosalind in his luxury box.

He did not speak to reporters.

"While I will no longer be the team owner, I will always be the Panthers Number One fan," Richardson's letter said.

The Panthers are tied to Charlotte through June of 2019.

The city of Charlotte and the Panthers reached agreement on improvements for the team's stadium in 2013. The plan called for the city to contribute about $87 million for renovations to Bank of America Stadium in exchange for a six-year deal to keep the Panthers in Charlotte.

The money is less than what the team was seeking for improvements of the stadium, which opened in 1996. Forbes estimates the Panthers worth at $2.3 billion.

Richardson's announcement comes after a Sports Illustrated report that cited unnamed sources who said Richardson made sexually suggestive comments to women and on at least one occasion directed a racial slur at an African-American Panthers scout. The report states that the settlements came with non-disclosure requirements forbidding the parties from discussing the details.

The NFL on Sunday said it has taken over the investigation of allegations of workplace misconduct. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league had no comment on the report.

Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said Sunday the team requested the league take over the investigation.

"We thought it would be best for transparency reasons," Drummond told The Associated Press.

The investigation was originally going to be led by the law firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan, LLP, and overseen by Erskine Bowles, a minority owner with the Panthers.

Drummond said in a release that the Panthers take these allegations very seriously and are committed to a full investigation.

"The entire organization is fully committed to ensuring a safe, comfortable and diverse work environment where all individuals, regardless of sex, race, color, religion, gender, or sexual identity or orientation, are treated fairly and equally," Drummond said.

The Panthers began play in 1995 but have never delivered on Richardson's promise of winning a Super Bowl. They lost after the 2003 and 2015 seasons.

The Panthers are 10-4 entering the final two weeks of the regular season and well positioned for a playoff run.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, like most of the team's players, hadn't read the details of the report that came out just as the Panthers were preparing to play the Green Bay Packers.

Newton said Richardson has served in a "father-like role" for him since his arrival in Carolina seven years ago.

"For me I hope things don't alter my thinking of Mr. Richardson," Newton said. "But I do know that he has given me some things that I will forever be appreciative of."

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game it is important to let the process play out, but vouched for Richardson's character.

"The only thing I can speak on is for what he has been to me as far as I'm concerned," Rivera said. "A lot of you know I had a house fire and he was there for (my wife) Stephanie and I. He was tremendous in supporting us. My brother passed and Mr. Richardson was there and helped me get to the funeral and back. I can't speak to anything other than that."

It has been a whirlwind year for the Panthers organization.

Team president Danny Morrison abruptly resigned in February. Richardson then fired general manager Dave Gettleman on the eve of training camp and replaced him with former general manager Marty Hurney on an interim basis. It was a surprising move considering Carolina made the playoffs three times in four seasons under Gettleman.

Vikings' win means Eagles must wait for homefield advantage

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Vikings' win means Eagles must wait for homefield advantage

MINNEAPOLIS -- Eric Kendricks had an interception return for a touchdown, Case Keenum passed for 236 yards and two scores, and the Minnesota Vikings clinched the NFC North title with a 34-7 victory over the depleted and disinterested Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 37 touches and 242 yards from scrimmage for the Vikings (11-3), who were given quite the reprieve on the schedule a week after their eight-game winning streak ended at Carolina in the last of three consecutive road trips. They were never challenged by a Bengals team missing more than half of its starting defense to injuries and met with a morning report by ESPN that head coach Marvin Lewis will not return next season.

The game went so smoothly that Teddy Bridgewater even made his grand entrance, his first live action in 16 months since a massive knee injury. Bridgewater's first pass was intercepted, a high throw that bounced off McKinnon's hands and into the arms of strong safety Shawn Williams deep in Vikings territory. That set up a short touchdown run by Giovani Bernard to keep the Bengals from being shut out for a second time this year.

Terence Newman also picked off former teammate Andy Dalton, who went just 11 for 22 for 113 yards and three first downs before the Bengals (5-9) turned to backup quarterback A.J. McCarron midway through the fourth quarter after the interception by Williams (see full recap).

Brady, Patriots do it again to Steelers
PITTSBURGH -- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski did it to the Pittsburgh Steelers again.

One questionable decision by Ben Roethlisberger helped.

Brady fed Gronkowski repeatedly to set up Dion Lewis' go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with 56 seconds remaining and Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with 5 seconds left as the New England Patriots rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday.

The Patriots (11-3) gained the inside track for homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs by ending Pittsburgh's eight-game winning streak. Brady threw for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Gronkowski, fresh off a one-game suspension, finished with nine receptions for 168 yards, including four on the game-winning drive.

It briefly looked like it wouldn't be enough.

The Steelers (11-3), who played most of the game without injured wide receiver Antonio Brown, appeared to take the lead when Roethlisberger connected with tight end Jesse James for a 10-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to left. The play was overturned on review, with official Tony Corrente saying the ball did not "survive" the completion of the catch (see full recap).

Rams rout Seattle for control of division
SEATTLE -- Todd Gurley rushed for 152 yards and scored four total touchdowns in just 2 quarters, and the Los Angeles Rams moved to the cusp of their first division title since 2003 with a 42-7 thumping of the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

The matchup to determine first place in the NFC West was completely one-sided.

Los Angeles (10-4) was dominant, embarrassing Seattle into the worst loss during Pete Carroll's eight seasons in charge.

Taking advantage of field position, the Rams scored on six of seven first-half drives, including a 21-point scoring blitz in the second quarter capped by a 57-yard TD run by Gurley on third-and-20 with less than a minute remaining in the first half to take a 34-0 lead at the break.

Gurley had 144 yards rushing in the first half, twice scoring from the 1. He added a 14-yard TD reception midway through the third quarter for a 40-0 Rams lead and spent the rest of his day watching. The 152 yards rushing were the second-best of his career.

The Rams don't have the division wrapped up, but have a two-game lead with two weeks to play. A win against either Tennessee or San Francisco is enough for their first division title in 14 years (see full recap).

Saints beat Jets for 10th win
NEW ORLEANS -- Mark Ingram ran for two touchdowns and gained 151 yards from scrimmage, including a late 50-yard TD run, and the New Orleans Saints overcame three turnovers to defeat the struggling New York Jets, 31-19 on Sunday.

Michael Thomas became the second NFL player with at least 90 receptions in his first two seasons. He caught nine passes for 93 yards, including a pivotal fourth-quarter touchdown on a short slant for New Orleans (10-4), which retained its tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Alvin Kamara turned a short catch into a 10-yard TD in his return from a concussion that knocked him out of the Saints' loss at Atlanta a week earlier.

Bryce Petty made his first start at quarterback this season for the Jets (5-9), who were eliminated from playoff contentions. Petty completed 19 of 39 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice -- once on a tipped pass and once on a long, inconsequential throw as the game ended.

His 2-yard touchdown pass to former Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire cut New Orleans' lead to 24-19 with 1:51 left. But the Jets' onside kick failed and Ingram broke loose for his long score while the Saints were really just trying to run down the clock (see full recap).