After winning four straight games, the swagger and bravado of the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) has returned, the latest triumph coming in the form of a 35-6 domination of the Baltimore Ravens on the road. Russell Wilson was brilliant once again with five touchdown passes as he is playing like a man possessed at the quarterback position.
The defense completely eliminated the Ravens' running attack, as they could only muster 23 yards on the ground. Off the field you have Richard Sherman coming out with comments regarding his displeasure of those members of the media who had counted the Seahawks out earlier this season. Put all of these elements together and you have a Seattle team that the majority of the 12s love and fans of other teams hate with a passion once again.
The Cleveland Browns (3-10) got off the mat last week with a 24-10 home win over the San Francisco 49ers. Johnny Manziel did a nice job of taking care of the football and went about his business without too drama. However, there has been some interesting off-the-field banter with head coach Mike Pettine coming out earlier this week saying that Wilson was not in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks.
That set off Wilson's teammate Michael Bennett, who responded with his take about Pettine not being elite either as a head coach and not being very good at picking quarterbacks. Bennett, quite simply, was telling the truth as it has been an epic circus at the quarterback position in Cleveland for a long time.
Cleveland at Seattle
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Seattle -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks Running Game
With the loss of Thomas Rawls for the season after breaking his ankle last week, Seattle re-signed Christine Michael and Bryce Brown to provide some depth at running back. For Michael it will be a second chance with the team that took him in the second round of the 2013 draft. So far during the week he has shown more humility with the press than during his first stint in Seattle. But the only thing that will matter for Michael is what he does on the field as he will only have most likely a couple of games to prove that he still belongs in the NFL as a complementary running back.
2. Johnny Manziel vs. the Seattle Defense and the 12s
Manziel showed some progress on the field last week, completing 21-of-31 passes for 270 yards. He had one touchdown, but also threw an interception. However, the challenge for Manziel will ramp up significantly by having to go on the road to take on a Seahawks defense that is starting to find its groove, especially up front.
If Cleveland is going to have any chance of being competitive on Sunday, the Browns need Manziel to exude tremendous patience and take what the defense gives him. It will not be a walk in the park for Johnny Football as the 12s will be lying in wait to make his life insanely miserable all afternoon long.
3. Russell Wilson vs. Browns Secondary
Christmas should come early for Wilson and the Seahawks' offense as Cleveland has one of the worst pass defenses in all of the NFL. The Browns are allowing 253.8 passing yards per game, which places them 23rd in the league. They also are surrendering just under 28 points per game. The only team that has given up more points is New Orleans (30.5 ppg).
Now, combine these stats with cornerback Joe Haden out for the season with a concussion and look for Wilson to go on the attack and get the ball into the hands of wide receivers Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse early and often on Sunday afternoon against what appears to be a suspect Cleveland defense.
Seattle should continue its stretch of impressive play as it moves towards locking down the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks should have little trouble picking up their fifth win in a row this afternoon at home, especially if they start fast and impose their will on the Browns. The only way this game stays competitive will be if Seattle turns the ball over multiple times early on in the first half and Cleveland takes advantage of it. If Pete Carroll's team starts out fast and can get a 17-0 type of lead early, it will put the defense in the driver’s seat, giving that unit plenty of opportunity to create havoc by putting pressure on Johnny Manziel and forcing the young quarterback into making some mistakes.
For Cleveland it will be a rough homecoming for several players, as defensive lineman Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper and kicker Travis Coons player in college at either the University of Washington or Washington State respectively. This game also should give Carroll a chance to get some of his starters out early to rest them up and protect them for their final two NFC West tests - home vs. St. Louis and at likely division champion Arizona.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Browns 7
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball.