The oddest thing about Sunday night’s Seahawks-Patriots game will be the lack of fans as the two teams play in an empty CenturyLink Field with piped-in crowd noise.
It’ll be the first of at least three home games for Seattle at the CLink without fans.
Also odd, from a strictly football standpoint — the Patriots come in as four-point underdogs.
New England hasn’t been an underdog in a regular-season game since the opener of the 2016 season, a streak of 64 games that ESPN said had been the longest of the Super Bowl era.
New England was a nine-point underdog in that 2016 game, on the road against defending NFC West champion Arizona and playing without a suspended Tom Brady. No matter, the Patriots won 23-21 in Jimmy Garoppolo’s first career start.
Let’s look closer at Sunday’s game:
Matchup to watch
Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams vs. Patriots quarterback Cam Newton
The Patriots don’t figure to be able to win this game with the same 42-19 run-to-pass ratio they had against Miami in the opener. But Newton’s running — and operation of the option running game — is obviously the key to their remade offensive attack. Wagner and Adams will likewise be the key to Seattle’s defensive strategy to contain Newton, who has never been afraid to run between the tackles.
Players to watch
Seahwks receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf
The Seahawks had an easy time throwing against a struggling Atlanta defense with Russell Wilson tossing four TD passes and throwing for 322 overall. But it’ll be much tougher sledding this week against one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
Specifically interesting to watch is whether New England will match up cornerback Stephon Gilmore — last season’s NFL defensive player of the year — on one of Lockett or Metcalf, or just play to a side (he’s officially listed as the right corner).
Some figure the Patriots might be most apt to put the 6-foot-1, 202-pound Gilmore on Metcalf. If so, that will not only be a really interesting test for Metcalf but also maybe put a little more onus on Lockett, though New England’s other corners (such as J.C. Jackson) are pretty darn good, too.
Coaching decision to watch
Will the Seahawks continue to let Russ, uh, throw a lot on early downs?
The big revelation of Week 1 was Seattle’s aggressiveness on early downs. Via Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks passed on 69% of first and second downs, compared to doing so 49% of the time last season. Wilson thrived on those plays, going 24 for 26 for 229 yards and three touchdowns. But as noted, the Patriots’ secondary is not Atlanta’s.
Coach Pete Carroll seemed to already lay the groundwork to expect more balance this week saying Seattle needs to run it more than the 20 times of last week. Still, if it’s working….
The Seahawks have at least had some run-throughs for what it will be like Sunday night, having played two mock games at CenturyLink and also last week at Atlanta without fans.
Still, no team has fed off the fevered atmosphere created by a prime-time game at home like the Seahawks — they are 19-3 at home in prime time under Carroll.
Carroll said there will be “an unbelievable amount” that will be different about the game without fans.
But Carroll also said this week he didn’t think the surroundings impacted the game against Atlanta.
And Wilson made the interesting point that current events in the world may have the players appreciating the opportunity to play in any surroundings even more.
“With everything going on in the world in America and just to be able to play the game, I’m just grateful, even though nobody’s out there,” he said. “So we’re excited about it.”
Player who could surprise
Seahawks rookie linebacker Jordyn Brooks
Seattle’s first-round pick got just seven snaps against the Falcons but earned high marks from Pro Football Focus, which noted he made one tackle and kept two passes completed in his area to a combined eight yards. “His debut was as encouraging as limited snaps may be,’’ PFF wrote.
Which makes it worth wondering if the Seahawks might try to get him on the field a little more to use his speed to defend against Newton’s running.
That’s Seattle’s record in home openers dating to the 2009 season, the Seahawks winning those games by a combined 259-94. Not that they’ve all been easy — Seattle won its home opener a year ago by a point over a subpar Bengals team.
The Final Word
Seahawks 24, Patriots 16
Seattle won’t have its vaunted home-field advantage in the traditional sense. It’ll be really interesting to see what tweaks Bill Belichick has in store for Seattle in Game 2 with Newton at QB, and the Patriots defense will be a much stiffer test for the Seahawks. But the sense here is the Seattle defense matches up much better with what the Patriots figure to do. Throw in a little more balanced offensive attack — yep, Seattle may want to run the ball more in this one — and the Seahawks should get to 2-0 for the second straight year.