LAST WEEK STRAIGHT UP: 11-3
LAST WEEK vs. SPREAD: 7-7
SEASON STRAIGHT UP: 50-27
SEASON vs. SPREAD: 39-38
An instant-replay of Super Bowl XLIX - that's what transpired last Sunday in Cincinnati. A close, nip and tuck first half, followed by a dominating third quarter building a big lead for the ex-Champs, culminating in an epic fourth-quarter collapse. About the only real difference between the two contests was that the Bengals mounted four late scoring drives instead of the Patriots' two.
Understand, folks, that every element of standard Seahawk victory was present: a productive running attack (169 yards from rookie Thomas Rawls, 200+ overall), a typical Russell Wilson outing (15 of 23, 213 yards, 1 TD), winning the turnover battle (including Bobby Wagner's 24-yard fumble recovery/return for the score making it 24-7 Seattle late in the third quarter) - heck, even our shambles of an offensive line actually bothered to get in the way of Cincinnati defenders.
The problem was that those elements of standard Seahawk victory were, let us say, unevenly distributed.
You may have noticed that I did not mention the Legion of Boom (entire defense) in the aforementioned elements of standard Seahawk victory. Ostensibly, that was only present for three quarters as well, and they took a lot of heat on Seattle sports radio this week for turning into a sieve when it mattered the most. But I was not one of those voices. Why? Because, just as happened in Super Bowl XLIX, the offense disappeared first, leaving the NFL's best defense in over a decade (at the very least - arguably since the '85 Chicago Bears) to get worn down to the point of being merely ordinary.
I put it to a Facebook friend thusly:
The fourth-quarter collapse against the Bengals was, IMO, a function of the offense going dark in the final third of the game and OT. Six straight three-and-outs. Even two or three first downs to sustain a single drive without points would have been enough to hold the lead. And that brings us right back to the O-line problems. And they can't be fixed until the offseason, and only through the draft since we won't gain much, if any, cap space. [emphases added]
Football is a collaborative effort. The defense's job is to keep the other team's offense off the scoreboard and get the ball to the offense, and the offense's job is to put points on the board and keep the other team's offense off the field. If the offense can't do the latter, the defense, no matter how good it is, is going to get tired. And that is precisely what happened in the fourth quarter and overtime at Paul Brown Stadium last Sunday.
As for today, (1) we're at home, (2) the respective matchups of Carolina's #25 offense against our #5 defense and the Panthers' #10 defense against our #15 offense would seem to net in Seattle's favor, and (3) just about every prognosticator (including your humble pundit) is favoring the 'hawks to even their record at 3-3 - just like last season.
But in the bigger picture, I find that I can't really much disagree with Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports:
Maybe the Seahawks bounce back, but at this point you have to wonder if something is truly off with this team. The fearsome Seahawks defense has had its moments, for sure, but was also that crazy Calvin Johnson play away from blowing second-half leads in four games this season. Andy Dalton might be having a fine season, but it's still alarming that the Seahawks allowed him to put together four scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime to overcome a 24-7 lead.
The Seahawks can turn things around and make a [third straight] Super Bowl. That's what they did last season after three early losses. There's still a lot of talent on the roster. But something seems off about this team. Until further notice, the Seahawks can't be considered contenders anymore. However, they'll always be lurking, just like last year at about this time.
Or, as I more optimistically expressed it to that same Facebook friend:
All of that said, the schedule eases considerably from here. Aside from the two games against the Cardinals, there's not another matchup on the remaining schedule in which we shouldn't be favored. Pittsburgh has to come here, and the Cowboys will still be without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant and haven't replaced Demarco Murray's production like Jerry Jones arrogantly thought he would. The only one that makes me pause is the morning game at Minnesota. So I stand by my 11-5 forecast.
Today's game at the Clink will be this season's fulcrum.
Straight up picks indicated by asterisk (*); picks against the spread in parentheses (x). And no, don't bet the farm on these picks; they're just for my amusement and your aggravation. Or vice versa. We'll see how it turns out, now, won't we?
New England* (-7.5)
Green Bay* (-10)
N.Y. Jets* (-5.5)