The NFC Championship goes through the reigning champion Seattle Seahawks, but that hardly guarantees the NFL’s first repeat winners in a decade, since New England accomplished the feat in 2004 and 2005. Even with Seattle’s devastating 12th man and a dominant defense, the Seahawks are not the perfect team.
Let’s take a look at the three reasons why NFC West winners and 12-4 Seattle will not repeat in 2015. (It’s worth noting, however, that this writer picked them to win the Super Bowl before each of the last two seasons, over Denver in 2014 and New England in 2015.)
Keep the Defense on the Field
It seems counterintuitive, given the current state of the league’s top-rated overall defense, but a strong ground game along with a consistent aerial attack makes Seattle vulnerable. Case in point? When Dallas came to the “Clink” in October and pulled off the 30-23 upset, it controlled both tempo and the clock with a dominant DeMarco Murray and productive Tony Romo. A healthy Bobby Wagner — Seattle’s All-Pro middle linebacker — will help patrol the run, along with Michael Bennett on the edge and the game’s most lethal secondary, the Legion of Boom. And yet, by moving the chains with sustained drives, you tire any defense, even this one, and maybe just as importantly, you keep Marshawn Lynch off the field. (This is important because this is what No. 24 can do to you.) Seattle thrives off its remarkable turnover differential (+10), second only to Green Bay in the NFC. Eliminate or minimize the takeaways, and suddenly the entire game changes.
Speaking of the Pack
When Green Bay came to Seattle in Week 1, Eddie Lacy was held in check, rushing for just 34 yards on 12 carries. But that was before the Aaron Rodgers breakout and the now-infamous “Relax” comments. These days, the Packers present the NFL’s best and most balanced offense — a two-pronged attack with Rodgers, Lacy and two elite receivers in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Even for Seattle, that’s a tough assignment. Should the Packers hold home field and beat Dallas in the divisional round, coming back to the 206 for revenge is a scary thought. And we’re not merely talking about revenge for this season either.
Because Russell Wilson is so deft on the move, he has been able to cover up a litany of problems on the Seattle offensive line. Injuries and a lack of talent up front have plagued this offense all year long, and any remotely decent pass rush can present problems for the Seahawks. Wilson — who became the first quarterback in NFL history with a passer rating of 95-plus in each of first three seasons, per Football Outsiders — has been under duress on far too many drop-backs, even when working out of the shotgun. The main culprits are rookie right tackle Justin Britt and left guard James Carpenter, two former high picks that destroy drives with both penalties and abysmal pass-blocking. The crux for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is figuring out the balance of not only runs and passes, but when to take the deep shot. Much has been made about Seattle’s lackluster receiving core, but the second-half emergence of slot man Doug Baldwin and rookie speedster Paul Richardson has become the vertical stretch guy the team hoped Percy Harvin would become. Wilson, though, needs time, particularly on the slower developing routes, and he has not been afforded it during most of this season.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report and follow me on Instagram @Schultz_Report. Also, be sure and catch my NBC Sports Radio show, Kup and Schultz, which airs Sunday mornings from 9-12 ET, right here.