If you were writing a Hollywood movie script this week's matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the Baltimore Ravens will have it all. It has a matchup between two lethal quarterbacks, topflight coaches, and the return of a potential villain in Earl Thomas.
Last week was a roller-coaster ride of a game in Cleveland for Seattle (5-1), who held off the Browns 32-28. Russell Wilson was on point throwing the football as he continues to emerge as the betting favorite to win the MVP in 2019. The defense took Cleveland's best punch early as the Seahawks trailed 20-6 in the second quarter but settled down as the game went along. Turnovers were a decisive factor in this contest as Seattle was plus-three in that department. The win did come at a cost, as the Seahawks lost Tight End Will Dissly to a season-ending Achilles injury. Dissly was one of the team's top receivers, with 23 receptions for 262 yards and four touchdowns.
Baltimore had a tougher time than expected with Cincinnati as the Ravens outlasted the Bengals 23-17 at home. Lamar Jackson had a historic performance as he completed 21-of-33 passes for 236 yards and ran for 152 yards on 19 carries. Jackson became the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 200 and rush for 150 yards in the same game. The defense did an outstanding job of forcing the Bengals to be one-dimensional, limiting Cincinnati to 33 rushing yards on 14 attempts.
Baltimore at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 20 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Controlling the clock
In a game like this where you have two high-scoring offenses it will be very important for the Seahawks to find a way to grind out a couple of extended drives. Seattle ranks ninth in the NFL in rushing as they are averaging 130.5 yards per game on the ground. Ball security is still a bit of a problem for the Seahawk running backs as C.J. Prosise had a critical fumble in the fourth quarter that nearly cost them the game. Chris Carson will need to put together another 100-yard performance on Sunday, which won't be easy with Duane Brown likely to miss this game with a biceps injury and D.J. Fluker up in the air with a hamstring issue.
Baltimore is averaging 205 rushing yards per game which is the best in the NFL. Mark Ingram II is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and is on pace to surpass 1,000 yards along with Lamar Jackson. This will cause Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. all sorts of headaches as containing Jackson on designed quarterback runs is enough of a problem. If Ingram can keep the chains moving in between the tackles with five-yard gains it will become a long afternoon real fast for the Seattle defense.
2. Defensive line battle
It was not the best of weeks for the Seahawks defensive line last Sunday in Cleveland as they were not able to get any sacks or consistent pressure on Baker Mayfield. However, this unit will get a significant boost this week with the return of defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who missed the first six games due to a suspension. Reed is coming off of a big 2018 season where he posted 10.5 sacks and he says he is ready to go. Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah will need to find a way to keep Jackson hemmed in the pocket enough to make him try to beat Seattle with his arm.
For the Ravens, their defensive line did a very good job of keeping Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard in check last week. Now, the task for Baltimore will be much bigger as the Seahawks are going to do everything they can to establish Carson in the running game and use Russell Wilson's legs when needed. The Ravens are fourth in the NFL in rushing defense (80.7 ypg), so it's not a given that Seattle will be able to gain much ground on Sunday.
3. Earl Thomas returns to Seattle
This will be an interesting scene on Sunday as Thomas will make his first trip back to the Pacific Northwest to play the Seahawks. Thomas is one of the founding members of the Legion of Boom and had an excellent eight-year run in Seattle that did come to a rocky end, to say the least. Thomas suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 4 on the road against Arizona last September. The final image most Seahawks fans had of Thomas was him going off the field on a cart and giving head coach Pete Carroll the middle finger, which was caught on camera by FOX. It's that last act of shooting Carroll the bird that will cause the potential for a mixed reaction by the 12s on Sunday. If Thomas didn't let his emotions take over and do that it would have been a stone-cold lock that he would receive cheers from the majority of the crowd. Carroll seems to have moved on from "middle finger gate" but have the fans? We will all find out on Sunday.
On paper, this game has the feel of an instant classic as Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson have the ability to shred a defense in a variety of ways. Both teams, for the most part, have played tight games this season with the exception of the season opener for the Ravens when they torched Miami 59-10 on the road. Thus, neither team is going to be intimidated by the other and it will come down to red zone execution, and turnovers as crucial deciding factors. Seattle will narrowly escape with another win as the Seahawks find a way to force Baltimore to kick one too many field goals and Wilson makes a big play with his arm late (perhaps burning former teammate Earl Thomas in the process?) to seal the win.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Ravens 30
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.