The first challenge will be winning a game on the road without running back Marshawn Lynch. And against a high-powered Bengals offense, the Seahawks hope to show they again have the NFL’s best defense.
CINCINNATI — The Bengals finally have convinced some of their skeptical fans that they are for real.
Their 4-0 start and a visit by the Seahawks, who have reached the Super Bowl each of the past two years, have resulted in Cincinnati’s first sellout in three home games and what one local TV station called “one of the hottest tickets in the 16-year history of Paul Brown Stadium.’’
“There’s going to be a lot of excitement here, which is great,’’ Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “ … The city’s going to be here, it’s going to be rocking, and that’s what we need to have.”
To which Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner says, bring it on.
“I love it,’’ Wagner said. “Because they are making it a bigger game than what it really is. It’s just another game to us. They are kind of treating it like their Super Bowl. But we are approaching it just like we approach every game.’’
Indeed, many around the NFL would be eager to stamp the Bengals as Super Bowl contenders if they can beat the Seahawks and improve to 5-0 for the third time in franchise history.
The 2-2 Seahawks, though, also have some proving to do.
First will be showing if they can win a game on the road without running back Marshawn Lynch.
The 29-year-old will miss his second consecutive game because of a hamstring injury, again throwing the tailback duties onto Thomas Rawls and Fred Jackson. That’s assuming Jackson is able to play with a high-ankle sprain.
Though shaky pass protection and their six sacks allowed got much of the attention after the 13-10 victory over Detroit, the Seahawks were held to a season low in rushing yards (110) and rushing yards per attempt (3.5) in the game.
Having another week to prepare for the possibility of a game without Lynch might compel the Seahawks to lean a bit more on their passing attack, especially going against a Bengals defense that has allowed 279 passing yards per game, sixth-most in the NFL.
High on the to-do list Sunday, though, might be proving that the Seattle defense again is the best in the NFL.
The Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the NFL the past three seasons and again have played to that level the past two games, following the return of strong safety Kam Chancellor from his holdout. After allowing 61 points in the first two games, the Seahawks have allowed just 10 the past two.
Chicago and Detroit, Seattle’s past two opponents, had 18 punts, a fumble and a field goal in 20 possessions.
Defensive coordinator Kris Richard said the improvement was more than just having Chancellor back, but added, “There’s no doubt about it … we all know the type of player he is, the presence and impact he has. It’s outstanding.”
The combined 1-7 record of the Bears and Lions also has to be considered.
There will be no asterisk this week, as the Bengals come in averaging 422 yards per game, second in the NFL, and 294 passing, which ranks fourth. The Bengals have had particular success throwing downfield, averaging an NFL-high 10.2 yards per attempt.
The Seahawks noted that their defense is designed to take away big plays — since Chancellor’s return, Seattle is allowing just 4.8 yards per pass, compared with 7.25 for the season.
“What they do best is what we emphasize,’’ Richard said. “It’s staying on top and eliminating explosive plays, and they’re the most explosive offense in the NFL right now, so it will certainly be a great challenge.”
Seahawks players specifically mentioned the success Cincinnati has had with seam routes — the midrange routes run between linebackers and safeties.
Chancellor, for instance, took the blame for Detroit’s longest completion on a seam route on the final drive, a 26-yarder that set the stage for his forced fumble a few plays later by Calvin Johnson that decided the game.
“They just try to find that hole in the defense, and (quarterback Andy Dalton) does a good job of recognizing where the holes are,’’ Wagner said. “But we have a very athletic defense, so if we just do our job, I don’t expect them to do the same things that they have been doing to other teams.’’
• The Seahawks on Saturday promoted running back Rod Smith from the practice squad to the 53-man roster to add depth in the backfield with Marshawn Lynch out. Room was created on the roster by placing cornerback Tharold Simon on Injured Reserve with a dislocated toe.