Teams set to meet in Philadelphia for second time this season with injuries looming large
The Seattle Seahawks can’t wait to get back on the road again, as they will travel back east to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wild Card round on Sunday. These teams met at Lincoln Financial Field back on Nov. 24 with Seattle defeating Philadelphia 17-9. Both teams are about as beat up as they come physically, which should make this game a tossup and a battle of attrition.
The Seahawks (11-5) finished the regular season 4-4 at CenturyLink Field, which has quickly become one of the biggest home-field disadvantages in the NFL. Over the last three seasons, Seattle is just a pedestrian 14-10 at home when all winning teams had a 255-105 record. The Seahawks dropped a tough 26-21 game to San Francisco last week as they were driving for a shot to win but had an inexcusable delay of game penalty at the 49ers one-yard line.
Pete Carroll is a legend with what he has done for the Seattle franchise. However, on that final drive, he channeled his inner Clay Helton of USC lore and failed to get Marshawn Lynch the ball once again with the game in the balance from the one-yard line on first down. They also lost linebacker Mychal Kendricks to a season-ending ACL injury, as Carroll’s decision to hire Ivan Lewis as the strength coach continues to be a catastrophic mistake. The lack of Quandre Diggs at safety also was a problem too since the Seahawks didn’t have much of an answer for the San Francisco passing attack in the first half.
Philadelphia (9-7) is in a similar position to Seattle injury-wise, with guard Brandon Brooks out for the year, tight end Zach Ertz dealing with a cracked rib and lacerated kidney, and running back Miles Sanders hoping to play through a sprained ankle. Despite the injuries, the Eagles found a way to get the job done to win the NFC East with a 34-17 win over the Giants on Sunday. Carson Wentz completed 23-of-40 passes for 289 yards and a touchdown. The combination of Sanders and Boston Scott did just enough on the ground to keep the New York defense at bay, which opened things up for Wentz to throw the ball effectively. What made the performance of the offense even more impressive is the fact they were missing seven starters. Daniel Jones was able to move the ball through the air against the Philadelphia secondary, but in the end, the defense stepped up they needed to.
NFC Wild Card: Seattle at Philadelphia
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 5 at 4:40 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' sense of urgency on offense
The Seahawks will need to come out with a greater sense of purpose from the opening snap on Sunday. Last week against San Francisco, they didn’t get much of anything going offensively, and the tempo in the first half was way too slow. Things picked up in the second half when Seattle scored 21 points and played with a faster tempo, which is going to be critical in order to advance in the playoffs. Russell Wilson has thrown for 4,110 yards, 31 touchdowns, and five interceptions on the year and will have to play at an MVP level on Sunday. Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch ran hard against the 49ers, but one of them will need to find a way to bust a couple of explosive 15-plus yard runs to keep the Eagles defense loosened up.
The offensive line is definitely not the same without Duane Brown and Justin Britt, as they had issues controlling the line of scrimmage the last couple of weeks. This week’s challenge will be dealing with a Philadelphia defense that has played well at home this season, limiting teams to just 16 points per game. The Eagles also did a nice job of containing Wilson in the first meeting to just 200 passing yards.
2. Carson Wentz vs. Seahawks' defense
Wentz has done a good job over the past couple of weeks of not making the catastrophic mistake to kill the Philadelphia offense. Since Week 15, Wentz has thrown for 874 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions with a very short-handed group of skill position players to work with. In addition, Wentz set a new single-season passing record this season with 4,039 yards to go with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The challenge for Wentz against the Seattle defense will be to take care of the football after throwing two interceptions in the first meeting against the Seahawks. Looking ahead to Sunday, Wentz won’t be facing the same Seattle defense, health-wise, as it’s not a guarantee that Diggs will be at 100 percent if he does get cleared to play. Jadeveon Clowney’s core injury is also one of those that could slow him down just enough to let Wentz have some success in the passing game.
3. Taking care of the football
The Eagles turned the ball over five times in the last meeting against the Seahawks, and ever since that game, they have done a 180-degree turn. In their last five games, Philadelphia has only turned the ball over three times after committing 20 turnovers in the first 11 games. Seattle finished the regular season with a plus-12 turnover margin and will have to be aggressive in stripping the football to give their offense a short field to work with. It will be up to Wentz, Sanders, Scott, and the rest of the skill guys to take care of the ball, make the plays that are there, and not force things. For the Seahawks, the mission is simply to trust Wilson and let him carry things over the finish line, as he does an excellent job of limiting turnovers.
This should be another low scoring affair between these two teams since both teams are still very beat up injury-wise. The Seahawks have played better away from home without question, which is why the travel shouldn’t affect them too much with the late kickoff time. Philadelphia will do a better job of taking care of the football in this rematch and will keep the game close into the fourth quarter. In the end, Wilson will make about two more key plays in the passing game than Wentz to give the Seahawks a dramatic one-score win and a rematch with San Francisco in the Divisional Round.
Prediction: Seahawks 20, Eagles 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.