Seahawks, Raiders kick off this season's NFL International Series with a matchup in Wembley Stadium
London is calling for the Seattle Seahawks (2-3) and Oakland Raiders (1-4) as they renew an old AFC West rivalry at Wembley Stadium this Sunday.
The Seahawks should come into this matchup with Raiders with plenty of confidence after going toe to toe with the Los Angeles Rams in a 33-31 loss. Russell Wilson has started to settle back into more of a comfort zone as he now has the benefit of a solid running game that sets things up for the play-action pass. Chris Carson and Mike Davis kept the chains moving on the ground against the Rams, combining for 184 yards and one touchdown. Another key reason for the ground game’s success against Los Angeles was the offensive line. D.J. Fluker’s return has been a big reason why the offensive line has grown as a unit, thanks to Fluker’s ability to run block at a pretty high level. The ability to set a physical tone is another reason why the offensive line has taken steps forward over the past couple of weeks. If that continues, then Seattle is going to be an interesting team to watch offensively the rest of the way.
To say that Oakland is reeling after five weeks would be an understatement, as its lone win of the season is against Cleveland. Also, the Raiders are coming off a 26-10 loss in a de facto home game against Los Angeles Chargers down at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. Head coach Jon Gruden has gotten a cold dose of reality in his return to an NFL sideline, and you must wonder if he regrets leaving his cushy Monday Night Football broadcasting gig. Derek Carr has been up and down at quarterback, but that could be a by-product of Carr feeling the need to do everything by himself. Defensively, it's crystal clear that the Khalil Mack trade to Chicago has blown up in the faces of the Oakland front office, as the Raiders are struggling to generate a quality pass rush.
Seattle vs. Oakland (London)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Wembley Stadium (London)
Spread: Seahawks -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Russell Wilson vs. Derek Carr
These two quarterbacks, whose salaries come in at just under $49 million combined, will face off for the second time in the regular season. Wilson has the experience advantage and playmakers like Tyler Lockett, who should be able stretch the Oakland secondary and make big plays. Carr has Jared Cook, Jordy Nelson and Amari Cooper, but the question remains whether he will have enough time to get them the ball on Sunday. Wilson should have a pretty good day against a suspect Raiders defense that hasn’t held any opponent under 20 points in their first five games. Carr is going to have to be patient and take what the Seahawks defense gives him. If Carr tries to force plays that aren’t there, then guys like Shaquill Griffin and Bradley McDougald will have a great opportunity to cause turnovers.
2. Marshawn Lynch
Lynch has got to be wondering what in the world he has to do to get the football on first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Gruden called a pass play on first-and-goal with the Raiders down 20-3 that led to an interception instead of an almost automatic touchdown by giving the ball to Lynch. You can expect to see a highly motivated Lynch on Sunday against Seattle, and he’ll want to prove to Carroll and the Seahawks organization that he still has enough in the tank to produce at a high level. Regarding Lynch’s overall performance this season: Outside of a 130-yard performance against the Browns, he has been average at best. It will be interesting to see if Gruden attempts to feed “Beast Mode” early and often to keep Frank Clark and the Seahawks pass rush at bay.
3. The London effect
This will be interesting as NFL fans across the pond are going to treated to a very diverse mix of Seahawks and Raiders fans. Both teams have a similar distance to travel, though Seattle left on Wednesday about a day ahead of Oakland. The ability to acclimate to the time change prior to the game will be critical for both teams. Special teams are another area to watch, as Michael Dickson could be an underrated weapon with his punting and drop kicks on kickoffs to flip the field position battle in favor of the Seahawks. Fast starts are going to be important for both teams in this must-win game. Seattle could pull away quickly and win by 2-3 scores if it can start strong. The Raiders are a team that could easily mail it in on Sunday if they fall behind by two scores early in the first half. It would help Oakland a great deal if they could force an early turnover against the Seahawks offense and simply get this game into the fourth quarter with a chance to steal it late.
Seattle is a team that at least has a clear enough identity on both sides of the ball to be the choice of the Vegas oddsmakers. The last time the Seahawks played outside the United States in the regular season was back in 2012 against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto, and they dominated Buffalo in a 50-17 win. Pete Carroll seems like the type of head coach who would embrace a road game in London and be able to use his motivational skills to have Seattle dialed in and ready to play. Meanwhile, Jon Gruden has been a lot less enthusiastic about the trip to London, and you must wonder if that negativity will trickle down and affect Oakland on Sunday. Bottom line: Look for the Seahawks to have a steady, methodical performance on offense and win by two scores to improve to 3-3 on the season.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Raiders 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.