OSN Column: NFC West Week 11 – Rams On Bye, Seattle Hosts Cardinals, San Francisco Travels To Jacksonville
By: Casey Mabbott / Oregon Sports News
Sitting at 3-6 with eight games remaining, Seattle’s outlook for the playoffs does not look great, but here’s the thing – no one knows what to expect in an 18 week season. No team has ever missed the playoffs after starting 3-6 before, in an 18 week season anyway. So there isn’t any history to go on. In most years, you would look at history and say tough chance, but there isn’t anything to look at, so we’ll assume everything is new and possible this year.
Speaking of new things – before this season, Russell Wilson had never lost to Minnesota or missed a game, or been shutout in an entire game. None of those streaks are active any longer as he lost to Minnesota in week 3, missed weeks 6-8 with a hand injury, and was shutout by Green Bay last Sunday. Each of those streaks was extremely impressive, and Wilson should be proud of them. But it speaks volumes that this team needs great performances from Wilson this season more than perhaps they ever have, and the concerning thing is I’m not sure Wilson can do the impossible this year, not the way he has in the past anyway.
The good news is that Seattle has finally evened up their schedule. After playing a road-heavy circuit the first ten weeks, they are back to even – with four games at home and four away the rest of the way. Their first home game of their final 8 is this Sunday, and they have a chance to get their second win of the season at home and improve their 1-3 record at Lumen Field. Seattle will need lots of help on tiebreakers as they make a push for the playoffs, so they really can’t afford to lose any more games at all, but definitely not any conference or division games. Ideally, if they need to drop a game the rest of the way, it would be at Houston in week 14. Going 8-0 or even 7-1 after starting 3-6 is not realistic, but 6-2 could be, assuming they can get a win this week. If they drop to 3-7, it might be time to start packing it in and looking toward next season. But at 4-6, they have a real shot at 9-8 or 8-9 and a playoff spot.
The division leaders are Arizona, Dallas, Green Bay, and Tampa Bay; those four spots in the playoffs are locked up even if the teams currently holding them change. Seattle isn’t catching Arizona at 8-2, so they have to land in a wild card spot. Those are presently held by LA at 7-3, New Orleans at 5-4, and Carolina at 5-5. Let’s just assume they can’t catch LA; they will need to hold a better record than the Saints or Panthers to get in the playoffs. They are just two games behind Carolina and 2.5 behind New Orleans due to a head-to-head loss. So don’t lose hope if you think a 3-6 team is out of the playoffs already. They just need to pick up at least two games over the next eight; that’s actually not that bad. But they have to get a win this week. They have to get the streak going before things get out of hand.
LA has the week off, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. QB Matthew Stafford has looked like a contestant on “American Gladiators” against his will the last two weeks. Stafford could still get back on track for the MVP race, but it will be an uphill battle, and it won’t get any easier as he goes into Green Bay for his first game back, the site of many personal nightmares for him as a member of the Detroit Lions. This will give the offense an extra week to acclimate Odell Beckham Jr into Robert Woods’ former role and ideally get Van Jefferson to drop fewer passes. If this team can stay healthy, there really isn’t another team that can match their overall talent, not even Tampa Bay. But if any of their stars get banged up, it could be a disappointing finish to such a great start. Next week, we’ll find out if the week of rest was helpful or just a break from their new normal of troubling events.
This week, there are just two games in the division, as Seattle hosts Arizona and San Francisco travels to Jacksonville. If Seattle can win and get some help from Jacksonville, they would be in third place in the division by Sunday night as they would have the same record as San Francisco and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. If Seattle loses, they could be stuck in last place with fewer and fewer opportunities to climb the NFC playoff ladder. Whoever ends up in last place this year will undoubtedly be one of the most talented teams ever to finish dead last in their division.
San Francisco at Jacksonville Sunday 10 am FOX (out of region)
San Francisco really played well against LA last week, but division games are usually hard-fought battles even when the two teams don’t measure up on paper, and the 49ers have won five in a row against LA, so this was not a fluke.
4-6 San Francisco travels to take on 2-7 Jacksonville Sunday morning. First-year head coach Urban Meyer and rookie QB Trevor Lawrence were expected to challenge the league like San Francisco HC Kyle Shannahan, and Robert Griffin III did in 2012 when Shanahan was the play-caller in Washington, and Griffin III was a rookie. But Meyer and Lawrence have had a rough first experience in the NFL. Their two wins are over Miami and Buffalo, so they can at least compete with some of the better teams in their conference. But the 49ers are not as bad as their record would indicate and are so close to finally getting healthy.
Jacksonville has a roster short on talent overall, and where they do have talent, they have a lot of young players still getting a chance to prove themselves. If this team can turn the corner, they should have a wide window to be competitive with young players growing together, or they could be on the verge of another rebuild in 4-5 years. We’ll find out in the mid-2020s, I suppose.
San Francisco should win this game easily on paper since they just beat up the Rams. But the Jags have been a tough out this year, even if it doesn’t make sense when you watch them play. They have something, but we don’t know what it is yet. San Francisco has speed on both sides of the ball, and they have it in droves. They seem to lack the same offensive creativity that got them to the Super Bowl two years ago (yes, that was the 2019 season, don’t worry about checking on it), but they make up for it with players ready to burn the defense every single play.
Jacksonville will probably hang around in the first half and then watch the 49ers blow past them in the second half. I predict a 28-13 San Francisco victory.
Seattle vs Arizona Sunday 1:25 pm FOX (in-region)
It’s either the beginning of the next step or the beginning of the end for Seattle. If last week was a must-win game (and it was), then what does that make this week? I don’t know how you level up from must-win, but whatever that is, that’s where Seattle is right this second. Sure they are only two games out of the wildcard spot, but two can easily become three and then four, and once you get to four – best of luck to you. Two can be overcome relatively easily, three is a lot, but it can be done. Four? Probably not going to happen this year.
After getting skunked last week, Seattle should come out guns blazing this week. If they don’t score early in this one, it’s ok to be concerned. Wilson hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since week five, the team hasn’t scored since week 9, and points weren’t exactly consistent even before that.
Chris Carson is not likely to play, and maybe that’s ok. This team can get the run game going through Alex Collins, and they need to throw a lot anyway. Arizona doesn’t give up much on the ground, and even if they were going to, Seattle doesn’t accomplish a lot on the ground. So use your strengths to your advantage and attack Arizona through the air, and stop forcing your weaknesses.
Wilson needs to get stud receivers DK Metcalf, and Tyler Lockett involved early and often. Neither receiver had a good game a week ago after both had great performances against Jacksonville the week before their bye. If this team is going places, it will be on the backs of their triplets on offense, and that has to start Sunday. This team hasn’t seen a complete performance from their offense yet this season, not with Wilson at QB anyway.
With the weather expected to be in the mid-40s and dropping by game time, it should be a cold one, and that should play to the favor of Seattle as the Cardinals are too used to playing in their comfortable and controlled indoor stadium. A little taste of the elements could be what Seattle needs to turn the game to their advantage and make a statement down the stretch.
It’s possible Arizona could be without their star QB Kyler Murrary who hurt his ankle two weeks ago. With backup Colt McCoy nursing an injured pectoral, it could be down to third-stringer Chris Streveler who was less than impressive in relief of McCoy last week. Streveler didn’t make any big mistakes, but he didn’t exactly wow anyone either. This was not the 2019 Grey Cup winner at the helm; it was just some kid trying to look a lot like Ryan Fitzpatrick from a distance. If Streveler can capture some of the dual-threat magic he showcased in the CFL, he could make the Cardinals wonder why they have McCoy at all. If he continues to struggle as a passer, he’ll probably be relegated to a gadget player like Taysom Hill.
The short version – Wilson needs to get his team rolling and rolling fast against the division-leading Cardinals – no matter who is out there on the opposing side. Seattle needs to beat whoever they play from now on, no more excuses about injuries or new systems or anything like that. There’s been plenty of gum chewing and pointing the finger at what might be causing the struggles, but now it’s time to let the play on the field do the talking.
Seattle wins this one, but it’s close. If Murray plays, it could be even closer, but I think Seattle wins regardless 31-24.