The second-half sprint to the playoffs will start on Sunday as the Seattle Seahawks take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at CenturyLink Field. This will reignite a coaching rivalry between Pete Carroll and Bruce Arians that was always must-see television when these coached against each other as NFC West rivals.
It was a tale of two halves for Seattle (6-2), who charged out to a 24-0 lead against Atlanta and then things got interesting as the Falcons rallied thanks to Matt Schaub's 460 passing yards. The Seahawks held on for a 27-20 win to keep pace with the rest of the division, but they clearly have work to do moving forward. Russell Wilson was efficient throwing the football as he completed 14 of 20 passes for 182 yards and threw two touchdown passes. Chris Carson did his usual solid work (90 rushing yards, TD on 20 carries) while Tyler Lockett caught six passes for 100 yards and DK Metcalf hauled in two short touchdown passes to make the most of his 13 receiving yards.
"Referees are never held accountable" those were the words of Arians at his Monday press conference after Tampa Bay (2-5) lost a tough one in Tennessee by a score of 27-23. The Buccaneers were the victim of a premature whistle with 3:45 left in the game when the Titans ran a fake field goal during which punter Brett Kern was tackled and had the ball come loose thanks to Devin White. Buccaneers safety Andrew Adams picked the ball up and had a clear path to the end zone for a touchdown. However, the officials ruled Kern down by contact despite the replays on television showing otherwise. This play, in a nutshell, encapsulated the epidemic that the NFL has with officials finding a way to make themselves the story, which in this case was via the premature whistle. Bottom line, Arians said what 31 other coaches are thinking in regard to referees as fans of all 32 teams across the league are getting shortchanged on a weekly basis because of the officiating as a whole.
Tampa Bay at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 3 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Russell Wilson vs. Buccaneers pass defense
Wilson is not going to be fazed by Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' blitz-heavy approach as he has a118.6 passer rating against the blitz. That rating will be tested this week, as Seattle lost center Justin Britt to a season-ending knee injury and for right now its Joey Hunt’s job to run with. Also, the Seahawks have a great knack for creating explosive plays via the air this year. They have 33 pass plays that have gone of 20 yards or more which is good for fifth in the NFL. Look for Seattle to put Wilson in situations where he can go on the attack early and often deep down the field to Lockett and Metcalf to exploit the Buccaneers secondary.
2. Jameis Winston vs. Seahawks defense
Winston is entering a hornet's nest as the 12s will be lying in wait for him. Turnovers have been a huge problem for Winston in 2019 as he is on pace for 27 interceptions. Last Sunday in Tennessee he was responsible for four turnovers, the third time that's happened this season. Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay is 0-3 in those games. It's never been a question of physical ability with Winston as he has all the tools to be a quality quarterback. As for the matchup against this Seattle defense, he will have time to throw as the Seahawks have struggled all year long getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Thus, Winston needs to feed his top two receiving targets Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, who are averaging 100.7 and 94.6 receiving yards per game, respectively. Meanwhile, Seahawks linebackers Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Mychal Kendricks need to find a way to create havoc for Winston and generate turnovers. Seattle has 15 takeaways, which is good for fifth overall in the NFL.
3. Tampa Bay run defense vs. Seattle offensive line
This battle between the Buccaneers' defensive line and the Seahawks' offensive line will be a fun one for 60 minutes. Tampa Bay is the best in the league against the run, giving up 68.6 yards per game on the ground. The return of Jason Pierre-Paul up front was a nice boost last week, as he, Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea give the Bucs a fearsome trio. Looking ahead to their matchup with the Seattle offensive line, they will have to take advantage of left tackle Duane Brown, who is still working his way back into top playing form, and new center Joey Hunt. It will be very crucial for the Seahawks to stay ahead of the sticks and get the most they can out of their running game.
The folks in Vegas got this one just about right with the number at 6.5. Seattle simply hasn't blown anybody out so far in 2019. You can expect plenty of offensive fireworks as Russell Wilson will have a great shot to throw for 300 yards against the Buccaneers' defense. Turnovers will be a huge factor and the Seahawks' defense will find a way to get three takeaways against Jameis Winston. The wear and tear of the travel for Tampa Bay will be a factor as well and it will begin to show in the second half on Sunday. Seattle will pick up its seventh win of the season in what turns out to be an entertaining contest.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, Buccaneers 28
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.