Last year, the Seahawks went 13-3, earned the top seed in the NFC playoffs, and used home field advantage to reach the Super Bowl where they creamed the Broncos, 43-8.
When Seattle began this year 3-3, things didn’t seem to be going as smoothly. However, the Seahawks finished the regular season 12-4, earned the number one seed, and are prohibitive favorites to return to the Super Bowl.
During the final half dozen games of the season, the Seahawks allowed just 6.5 points a game. The team also led the NFC in point differential, allowed the fewest points in the league, and played the most difficult strength of schedule among playoff teams this year.
Next week, the Seahawks will host either Arizona, Carolina, or Detroit in their first playoff game. Seattle will be a big Divisional Round favorite no matter who the opponent, but one of those teams poses a much bigger threat than the others.
We know that Seattle is a juggernaut on defense, but their offense can be one-dimensional. While Marshawn Lynch helped lead the Seahawks to the top rushing offense in the league, their passing game was just 27th in the NFL. If an opponent could negate the rushing attack, and claw for a handful of points, Seattle could be vulnerable.
Arizona has already lost to Seattle twice in the last four weeks, scoring a total of nine points in two games. Seattle was able to shut down the Cardinals with both Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley at QB, so it may not matter who Arizona started under center. The Cardinals defense held Seattle in check for much of the week 14 matchup, but were lambasted at home in week 16, giving up over 500 yards. Mentally, Arizona may have already lost its potential Divisional Playoff game against Seattle.
The Panthers are middle of the road when it comes to stopping the run, and are too run-oriented on offense to offer a real threat to the Seahawks. The Seahawks have also beaten the Panthers in Carolina in the last two regular seasons (13-9 and 12-7). Cam Newton threw for just 125 yards in the first game, and 171 in the second. Don’t expect much more from the Panthers offense if they travel to Seattle.
The Lions, however, might have just the personnel cocktail to cause problems for Seattle. Detroit’s defense was the best in the league against the run this year and would have as good a chance as any at shutting down Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, and the scramble-happy Russell Wilson. On defense, the Seahawks would be forced to focus much of their secondary resources on Calvin Johnson, which could open up opportunities for the highly capable Golden Tate, who would love to burn his former team.
Verdict: The Lions would still come into the game as heavy dogs, but they pose the biggest threat to Seattle in the Divisional Playoffs.
(Photo credit: Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)