The Morning After: Seahawks Remain Undefeated During Bye Weeks
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Sometimes the best trade is the one you do not make. It may also be true that sometimes the best game is the one you do not play. This was a wild weekend of football, with both title contending state colleges taking pratfalls, and a variety of upsets, injuries, and oddities reshaping the NFL landscape. Like Rick waking from a coma in the hospital during the middle of a zombie apocalypse, Seahawks players and coaches try to make sense of this new world as they reenter the fray. Nobody is safe. Everything is there for the strong to take.
Shifting NFC landscape
We woke up Sunday morning knowing a few things about the NFC. The Green Bay Packers started the season as favorites to make the Super Bowl, beat the Seahawks in a controversial opener, and were enjoying another MVP-caliber season from Aaron Rodgers. Their only loss was to last season’s MVP and NFC entrant to the Super Bowl, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. That powerhouse offense had only lost one game as well, and that was to the best defense in the NFL this year, the Buffalo Bills. Both teams were clear favorites to win against vastly inferior quarterbacks in Case Keenum for the Vikings and Jay Cutler for the Dolphins. Oops.
Rodgers left the game against Minnesota early with an injury that we would later learn is a likely season-ending broken collarbone. Brett Hundley relieved Rodgers and threw three interceptions as the Packers lost their second game. Ryan and the Falcons had no such excuse as they coughed up a 17-0 halftime lead, and lost 20-17 to the Dolphins. That makes two straight home losses for the defending NFC champs, who now face a three game road trip at New England, then the surprising NY Jets, then division rival Carolina. After that, they play the Cowboys at home and then go on the road again to face the Seahawks. Rough stretch.
Meanwhile, the 3-2 Detroit Lions appeared poised to gain from the Packers loss playing at New Orleans. Instead, they fell behind 45-7 before staging a crazy rally that made the final score a wacky 52-38 as the Lions faded back to .500 at 3-3.
The Arizona Cardinals were left for dead after being annihilated in Philadelphia. At 2-3, they made what appeared to be a desperate trade for an aging running back in Adrian Peterson. A win at home against a middling Tampa Bay squad seemed possible if not probable. Instead, the Cardinals played nearly perfect offensive football while racing to a 31-0 lead. Peterson scored two touchdowns and ran for over 100 yards, breathing new life into what seemed to be a lost season for Arizona. Cardinals fans were not allowed to leave feeling too happy as the Bucs rallied behind Ryan Fitzpatrick after Jameis Winston left with a shoulder injury. Tampa scored 20 straight points to close to 31-20, and then to 38-33 before failing to recover the final onsides kick.
Arizona escaped with a needed win and reason to be hopeful, just in time to head off to London and face the Los Angeles Rams who got a remarkable victory of their own. Facing a ferocious Jacksonville Jaguars defense on the road, the Rams scored an impressive 27-17 victory on the strength of their special teams and defense. They had a kick return for a touchdown and a punt block returned for a touchdown to outscore the offense 14-10. Division rivals had a few different ways to interpret this Rams win.
Skeptics can point to Jared Goff struggling again against a good defense. He has faced two good defenses in Seattle and Jacksonville, totalling 1 touchdown pass, 2 interceptions, poor passer ratings. The Rams scored 10 points on offense in both of those games. Goff faced a decent defense in Washington and did not do much better, while totalling 20 points in that game. His gaudy 2017 numbers really came against the lowly 49ers and porous Cowboys. It may be worth holding off just a bit before claiming the Sun is rising in California on young Goff’s career.
Worriers can look at a Rams defense that appears to have found its footing, with improved play in the second half of the Cowboys game that carried over into the Seahawks and Jaguars contests. Even if the offense is not really the most prolific scoring crew in the NFL as they were the first few weeks, they could still give any team problems if that defense maintains this new footing. Fans in this camp would also be right to point to impressive road wins in Dallas and Jacksonville as evidence the Rams are here to stay.
Those that read my work often enough will not be surprised to read that I agree with both groups. The offense is not as good as they appeared early on, but the Rams have everything they need to be a playoff contender the rest of the way. The outcome of the game against Arizona will tell us a lot about the NFC West. Cheer for the Cardinals if believe the Rams are the bigger threat. Cheer for the Rams if you are confident the Seahawks can beat Los Angeles at home later this year to own the tiebreaker. Mainly, just cheer for the Seahawks to find their footing or none of it will matter.
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Only one team in the NFC has a single loss after this weekend. That is the Philadelphia Eagles. They are the favorites at this point given their record, and their balance on offense and defense. They beat the Panthers on the road, and nearly beat the Chiefs in Kansas City. They also almost lost to the Chargers and Giants, but nobody will be mentioning that for a while. The Eagles get a three-game homestand against the Redskins, the 49ers, and the Broncos. Then they go on the road to Dallas, who may be without Ezekiel Elliott, are home against the Bears, and then travel to Seattle. It is not hard to imagine a 10-1 Eagles team coming to the northwest.
Philadelphia has the clearest path to 13 wins and the #1 seed in the NFC. Every other team would have to go the rest of the season with only one loss or zero losses to reach what has typically been the magic number for homefield advantage. This could be a year when 12 wins gets it done. It certainly looks like that will be enough for a second seed. Seattle would have to go 9-2 the rest of the way to reach 12 wins. They are not good enough for that yet.
Minnesota and Green Bay are 4-2, but neither of them appear capable of winning 12 games, even with improvement in some areas. A wildcard there could be the return of Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota. The Vikings defense is good enough to make the team formidable with even a mediocre offense. The Panthers are 4-2, and definitely could reach that level assuming Luke Kuechly remains healthy. Carolina’s problem is that the Falcons and Saints are both 3-2 and the Bucs are 2-3. All of those teams can make life hell on one another, as the Saints already destroyed Carolina 34-13 in Carolina earlier this year proves. It seems like it will be hard for any team in this division to win more than 11 games.
The Redskins are 3-2, but do I really need to explain why they are not winning twelve games? That leaves the Rams and Seahawks. Both have credible claims. Seattle needs to greatly improve their line play and find a running game. The Rams really just need to keep playing at their current level given what is a pretty friendly schedule. That does not mean they will win all the games they should, but they already have two road wins nobody expected them to get. They have a little wiggle room. Seattle has to move the needle offensively or they will fall behind Los Angeles by year’s end.
That brings us to the rumors that have been flying around the Seahawks and their desire to improve the offensive line. Jason LaConfora, who is well connected in the Seahawks front office, reported yesterday that the Seahawks are “aggressively pursuing” help on the offensive line. Thank goodness. We know veteran Branden Albert was in for a visit and remains in Seattle unsigned. We also know that the Seahawks have reached out to the Texans about holdout left tackle Duane Brown and the Bills about injured starter Cordy Glenn. Other names that could make sense include 49ers left tackle Joe Staley, and the mythical creature known as Joe Thomas. Assume that there is no chance Thomas is available or interested in moving on.
The other names all have varying levels of potential reward and feasibility.
Reward: Low-to-moderate Risk: Moderate Feasibility: High
All you need to do is clear cap space and sign Albert. That is his biggest draw. Many fans misunderstand this to mean the Seahawks won’t need to do anything but sign him. Incorrect. It is highly likely the team will need to cut or trade a veteran to make room. That could be the same players you would need to trade in order to make room for the other players we are discussing. Moving Jeremy Lane for a conditional pick is the most likely as DeShawn Shead is nearing a return to the roster. Albert was once a Pro Bowl tackle, but has been declining rapidly and even worse, his desire to play is fleeting. He retired on his team, and then tepidly tried to return before being cut. That’s not the way to endear yourself to people like John Schneider and Pete Carroll who covet players who love the sport. Albert only needs to be below average to be better than Rees Odhiambo. He likely can do that, but the injury risk is real for any player who has been off this long, and the upside is pretty low with Albert.
Rumors are that Brown wants out. This likely will not end well with his current team, so it is in the best interests of both parties to find an amicable separation. The Texans have been doing fine on offense without Brown, and his replacement should make it back for their next game even though he hurt his calf Sunday. Brown has been a Pro Bowl player, and among the best in the game at his position for a long time. His level of play dropped last season, but was still graded highly. There is no comparison between Brown’s recent play and Albert’s. Brown is clearly the better player, and has played his whole career in a zone blocking scheme, similar to what Seattle runs. The Seahawks would likely need to trade Jimmy Graham to make room, and include a draft pick. My guess is this deal gets done, and the pick is around a 4th, possibly conditional to a 3rd. The risk is that Brown will get injured. Otherwise, this move would greatly improve the Seahawks offensive reliability.
The 49ers just let NaVarro Bowman go, and there are reports they will look to move many of their veterans for future picks. At 0-6, that would make some sense. Parting with Staley may not be a the smart move given they just handed the reins over to a young quarterback and hope to draft their franchise quarterback next year. Still, Seattle would be wise to check on Staley’s availability. The tough part would be identifying what the 49ers would be willing to take in return. They would be heavy on draft pick compensation, and the Seahawks don’t have a lot to offer. To make room for his salary, the Seahawks would still have to part with someone like Graham or perhaps Lane and some contract restructuring. Staley is on a far more team-friendly deal for the next few seasons than what Brown likely wants. Staley would be a great get. Seattle and San Francisco may just not have what each other need to make it happen.
Glenn is younger than the rest at just 28, and is very talented. He also makes a ton of cash and there is little incentive for Buffalo to move him. With the injury to TE Charles Clay, maybe the Bills would be tempted by Graham, but not likely. This one is tough to imagine going through.
My bet is the Seahawks find a way to get Brown in the door. It is welcome news that the team is looking to bolster this unit. Many fans will gravitate toward Albert because it feels like the easiest path. There is a lot of risk in going that direction. The team really can only make one veteran move at that position given cap constraints. It would be wise to make it for a player who the team feels most confident can lift the offense. Albert is the least likely to do that.