LAST WEEK STRAIGHT UP: 12-4
LAST WEEK vs. SPREAD: 11-5
SEASON STRAIGHT UP: 113-63
SEASON vs. SPREAD: 97-79
You never want to jump the gun on something being a turning point, because there's a built-in acute risk of wish-casting that comes with it. But Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's decision to kick a field goal late in the fourth quarter last week, down 32-27, instead of going for it on fourth down, which the 'hawks followed on their next possession with an eighty-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin, may be the turning point of Seattle's 2015 season.
Why? Simple: We beat an elite quarterback for the first time since last year's NFC Championship game. That had been the Seahawks' lodestone, or Rosetta Stone, this year: If playing a team with an Arena League-caliber QB, we win; if we play a Pro Bowl QB, forget about it. That's been a function of Cary Williams not working out as Byron Maxwell's replacement at #2 cornerback. Williams was benched last week in favor of DeSean Shead, who was tested "to the max" (to employ a Pete Carrollism) and did well enough to be given another start this week in Minnesota. It underscores what makes an elite unit like the Legion Of Boom, well, elite: No holes. Unparalleled, almost telepathic communication, intelligence, and physicality. With Brandon Browner and then Byron Maxwell, the LOB had it; with Cary Williams, they didn't. Will they have it with DeSean Shead? We shall see.
The fourth quarter loss of Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham obviously hurts, costing Russell Wilson a prime mid-level and red zone target, but they went to consecutive Super Bowls without him, so the 'hawks will manage. Losing Marshawn Lynch for the season with a sports hernia would have been devastating, but rookie Thomas Rawls has stepped in without Seattle's top-ranked (after today) running game missing a beat. And now that the murderer's row front-loaded part of their schedule, designed by the league to take the almost-two-time Champs out of the playoff race early, is behind them, today's matchup against the NFC North-leading Vikings is the only significant obstacle left (assuming the Cardinals rest their starters in Week 17) to a table-running.
So what's the tale of the tape?
TOTAL OFFENSE: Seahawks #8, Vikings #28
RUSHING OFFENSE: Vikings #1, Seahawks #2
PASSING OFFENSE: Seahawks #23, Vikings #31
TOTAL DEFENSE: Seahawks #4, Vikings #9
RUSHING DEFENSE: Seahawks #5, Vikings #21
PASSING DEFENSE: Vikings #4, Seahawks #9
Holy crap, we dropped in the pass defense rankings. That's what giving up almost five hundred yards to Ben Roethlisberger will do to you.
Anyway, the chink in Minnesota's armor stands out like a nose zit on prom night, and it's right in the 'hawks wheelhouse: Just run the ball down their throats with Thomas Rawls, sprinkle in a few explosive play action passes from RW3, and let the "Blue Wave" pin their ears back and overwhelm Teddy Bridgewater (this just in: NOT an elite quarterback).
I'm not suggesting a blowout is in the offing - we don't seem to be capable of blowouts anymore - but the ride to 11-5, the #5 seed, and, perhaps, perchance the old Wild Card route to another Super Bowl should be off and, well, running.
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?
Kansas City* (-3)
N.Y. Giants* (+2)
New England* (-9.5)