It wasn’t always easy, but the Seattle Seahawks are headed back to the NFL playoffs for the fourth year in a row as one of the most dangerous teams in the field.
Seattle got off to a 2-4 start and looked to be in trouble with major issues on both sides of the ball. However, the Seahawks responded by winning six out of seven to close the season and secure the No. 6 seed in the NFC, earning them a road date with the Minnesota Vikings in the first round next Sunday.
The late season hot streak was capped off with a 36-6 destruction of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17. While the Cardinals didn’t have anything to play for in the second half, Seattle dominated every facet of the game and made Carson Palmer look very bad when he was in the game.
Nobody wants to play the Seahawks right now, but their path through the playoffs is very difficult. Minnesota will put up a better fight than it did in a 38-7 blowout loss on Dec. 6, while Arizona and the Carolina Panthers would likely be favored at home over Seattle in potential later rounds.
Still, the Seahawks have the ability to challenge any team, if they get a few key factors to go right.
An effective Marshawn Lynch
Lynch has not played since Week 10 due to a sports hernia injury. While it was unclear for much of that time if Lynch was going to be able to play again this season, he rejoined the team on Monday and figures to be active this Sunday in Minnesota.
For a while this season, it looked like the Seahawks may not even need Lynch, as undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls was playing very well. Rawls suffered a broken ankle in Week 14, leaving the Seahawks with a running back by committee situation that includes Christine Michael and Bryce Brown.
If the Seahawks are going to win three straight road contests, they need a strong running game. The running back by committee has done well enough so far, but that could change against good teams in the postseason.
For that reason, Lynch is the single most important player for Seattle’s hopes of making a third straight Super Bowl. Lynch mostly struggled when he was on the field this year, although some rest and an improved offensive line could help him in the coming weeks.
Get healthy at other positions
While Seattle’s injury situation is not nearly as bad as some of the other teams in the postseason, the team was missing a few key players in Week 17. The Seahawks will need to be at full strength with potentially three straight road contests, meaning those players need to be active and healthy.
In particular, the Seahawks’ offensive line has been beat up over the past couple of weeks. Russell Okung has been out for two weeks with a calf problem, while J.R. Sweezy was inactive in Week 17 going through the concussion protocol. Given the quality of pass rushers just about every playoff NFC team has, the Seahawks need those two back next week.
Beyond that, Luke Willson‘s return from the concussion protocol will also be critical. Seattle is very thin at tight end with Jimmy Graham out for the year, as Cooper Helfet and recently added Chase Coffman split snaps at the position last week.
A healthy Kam Chancellor would also be a nice boost, although replacement Kelcie McCray has performed well in his absence. Head coach Pete Carroll is optimistic that all four players will be ready for Minnesota.
Do a better job of covering tight ends
Seattle’s huge weakness defensively for much of the season was covering tight ends on the seam route. If the Seahawks are going to advance far in the postseason, that is going to need to change over the next few weeks.
While the Seahawks may feel fortunate to be avoiding Jordan Reed and Washington in the first round, Kyle Rudolph could still be a dangerous weapon for Teddy Bridgewater this week. Beyond that, the Seahawks should be uneasy about facing Carolina’s Greg Olsen down the line, as Olsen caught eight passes for 131 yards and the game-winning touchdown against Seattle in Week 5.
The Seahawks have been better against tight ends in recent weeks, although they haven’t played anybody nearly as good as Olsen. A healthy and effective Chancellor could make a big difference, but he has not proved to be at full strength all season long.
The offensive line holds up
It’s been a wild up-and-down season for the Seahawks offensive line. For Seattle to advance in the postseason, they are going the unit to play its best, particularly against a healthier Minnesota defense that includes Everson Griffin and Anthony Barr this time around.
After a disastrous first few weeks of the season, Tom Cable engineered yet another mid-season turnaround, as the unit got much better at both pass protection and run blocking. That all changed in Week 16 against the St. Louis Rams, as Seattle reverted back to early season form.
Even with all of the injuries, the unit was able to bounce back and looked good against Arizona. The improved offensive line has helped the running game still be a factor despite the injuries, and was a huge part of Russell Wilson‘s late season tear. Hopefully the St. Louis game was just a blip, and the Seahawks can stand up to the difficult pass rushes they will be facing in the coming weeks.
Russell Wilson continues his recent hot streak
While the offensive line has been a major factor, the single most important part of Seattle’s late-season rise was the play of Wilson. If Wilson continues in his current form, the Seahawks can take down any other team in the NFL.
Wilson put together easily his best season yet, throwing for over 4,000 yards with a TD:INT ratio of 34:8. Those numbers were fueled by an incredible seven-game hot streak to end the season where Wilson threw 24 touchdowns to just one interception.
With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why Seattle is a feared team in the playoffs, even among the higher teams. The Wilson to Doug Baldwin connection needs to continue to be outstanding for the Seahawks to beat Arizona or Carolina.
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