[Update: Seattle won 24-14]
Thirteen weeks into the NFL season and still there is considerable uncertainty over which teams are playoff bound and which will have to watch from their couches.
The Dallas Cowboys grabbed a much needed win in Chicago on Thursday night, but are having difficulty separating from the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, and San Francisco 49ers for one of the final two playoff spots.
Meanwhile in the AFC, six teams share a 7-5 record and a loss at this point could be a knockout blow to their playoff aspirations. This Sunday, the must-see game pits the NFC wildcard-leading Seattle Seahawks against the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles at 4:25 p.m. Eastern time on Fox.
The Seahawks began the season in a Super Bowl stupor. But over their last six games, they have gone 5-1 and look to be back in postseason form. The team’s defense sits third in the league in passing defense and fifth in rushing, and over the last two weeks, they have allowed a combined 6 total points to the Cardinals and 49ers by holding each team to a total of 64 yards rushing.
On offense, Seattle has relied heavily on quarterback Russell Wilson to make plays and keep drives alive. Wilson has been limited by his offensive play-makers, and the passing offense has only managed 5 plays of 40 yards or more the whole season. To put a spark in his offense, Wilson has turned to his mobility, rushing for 679 yards this season, averaging 7.5 per carry and finishing a third of his runs in first downs. Asked about his scrambling ability, linebacker Brandon Graham told CSN Philly that the key is to contain.
“I mean, he’s always moving around,” Graham said. “Every time he’s moving around he’s making big plays. We’ve got to try to contain and keep him in the pocket to make him beat us. But he makes smart decisions.”
Combined with running back Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks have the most effective and efficient rush offense. Lynch, who sits fifth in the league, contributes heavily to a rush attack that averages 168.8 yards per game and is first in rushing value above replacement, 20 percent more efficient than the second place Miami Dolphins. The Eagles will hope to keep Wilson from running and contain Lynch’s big-play ability.
Like the Seahawks, the Eagles also enter Week 14 with plenty of confidence, winning four of their last five on the strength of an offense that has scored 34.4 points per game over the streak. Coach Chip Kelly has been able to integrate the former butt of jokes QB Mark Sanchez into the offense and Sanchez has been effective, averaging 280 yards per game and throwing eight touchdowns. Additionally, opposing defenses once again have to fear LeSean McCoy, who recently awoke from his hibernation to gash the Titans and Cowboys for a combined 289 yards and two touchdowns.
The matchup to watch in this game will be the Seattle rushing attack against the Eagles' defensive front seven. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles rank fifth in the league in containing runners in the open field and they must continue this if they are to keep Russell Wilson from making big plays. On the other hand, Seattle must establish a running game if they hope to be effective in the pass and slow down Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense.
Philadelphia has been the more consistent of the two teams this season, but a Seattle team at its best might be too tall of a task for the Eagles. Give Seattle a slight edge in what should be an exciting and important NFC game.