Fresh off their biggest wins of the season, the Philadelphia Eagles head west to take on the red-hot Seattle Seahawks in an NFC tussle that will have plenty of playoff implications down the road for both teams. While each squad is on the opposite side of a postseason fight — the Eagles clawing their way into contention and the Seahawks looking to secure home-field advantage — both know that Sunday’s game could be a turning point entering the final half of the season.
The contest also marks the first meeting between two of the top young quarterbacks in the league who have proven naysayers wrong at just about every step. Russell Wilson’s rise from Wisconsin as an overlooked draft pick to Super Bowl winner has been well chronicled and, finally healthy this season, he is back to being one of the best in the NFL under center. His counterpart Carson Wentz looks well on his way toward that rarified air after impressing with his command of the offense after being drafted No. 2 overall this past spring out of North Dakota State.
Looking to make sure both signal-callers have a bad day in the Pacific Northwest are a pair of defenses that are in the top three in the NFL in fewest points allowed. The Seahawks’ prowess on that side of the ball has been well chronicled historically and the unit is fresh off their best performance of the season in shutting down Tom Brady and company at New England last Sunday night. They have to be excited at the prospect at returning to the hostile environment at CenturyLink Field, where Jim Schwartz’ re-tooled Eagles defense is hoping to make a little noise for themselves.
Remarkably, this is only the 15th meeting between the two franchises and each owns seven wins apiece coming in. The Seahawks have won two in a row — and three of the past four games this past decade — in addition to capturing the last victory between the two in Seattle.
Philadelphia at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 20 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seahawks -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Rawls’ return
While Seattle’s offense has gotten back to looking like its old self in recent weeks, it’s still jarring to see the team so far down in the NFL rushing rankings. That may be about to change however, as tailback Thomas Rawls returns to the lineup for the first time since Week 2 after suffering a leg injury. Adding him to the roster was one reason why the team surprisingly released leading rusher Christine Michael earlier in the week and could spell even more carries for rookie C.J. Prosise, who looked good last week against the Patriots. If the Seahawks can get things going on the ground, they become even more of a Super Bowl threat.
2. Wentz handling the pressure
A week after slowing down one of the best offenses in the league, Seattle returns home ready to keep things rolling on the defensive side of the ball and Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have to be licking their chops at facing a lackluster Eagles receiving corps and rookie Carson Wentz at quarterback. While the young signal-caller has been solid so far this season, he’s not taking many shots downfield and has already fumbled nine times while sitting in the pocket trying to make something happen. Philly’s offensive line has been a bit suspect but luckily won’t have to face defensive end Michael Bennett as the group will try to keep Wentz upright. How the young quarterback handles some of the looks and pressures that Pete Carroll’s defense throws at him will go a long way in determining whether this game is a blowout or a surprising upset.
3. Blocking out the noise
Philadelphia has had more than it share of issues on the road this season. The team has lost four straight to drop to 1-4 away from home and that lone win was against the lowly Chicago Bears early in the year. The Eagles have started slow just about each time on those five trips and have lost several tight ones after not being able to close the door. That simply won’t cut it if the Eagles want to win in one of the toughest environments in the NFL. Russell Wilson has only lost five times as a starter in the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field and it is a tall, tall task to make it six. If Philly even wants to have a shot, the Eagles have to reverse their trend these past couple of trips on the cross-country trek to a place that is as hard to win at in the NFL as any.
It seems like clockwork for Pete Carroll’s team: start the season slow with a few surprising losses (and in this case a tie) before eventually getting on the same page and going on a run to secure a prime playoff spot. That’s what many are thinking about the Seahawks after they marched into New England and delivered maybe the biggest win of the season against a Patriots squad that has looked like the class of the league since Tom Brady returned. After stringing together victories in the final few minutes against a few playoff-caliber teams, now comes the difficult task of avoiding a letdown game while continuing to grow as a Super Bowl contender out of the NFC.
Looking to put a stop to that is a young Philadelphia team that has been one of the bigger surprises in the league given its rookie quarterback and vastly improved defense. Carson Wentz has received all the press but the team’s turnaround under rookie head coach Doug Pederson has also been the result of a surge defensively behind a powerful front seven. The team is stuck in the toughest division in football this year and is fighting tooth and nail for a playoff bid against some quality competition.
This week also marks an opportunity for the Eagles to prove they can win on the road against a good team in 2016, something they haven’t been able to claim so far this season. They have enough talent to make this one interesting and possibly pull off a shocker but it’s hard to go against a Seattle team playing at home and hitting its stride over the past few games. The Seahawks look like an elite team right now and can go out and prove it by dispatching the Eagles in comfortable fashion on Sunday.
Prediction: Seahawks 27, Eagles 13
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.
(Carson Wentz photo courtesy of www.philadelphiaeagles.com)