The Seahawks this week venture somewhere they rarely have in their 45 years, Orchard Park, New York, to play the Buffalo Bills.
Seattle has played the Bills in Buffalo just three times, the fewest road games against any team that was in the NFL when Seattle joined in 1976.
In fact, the Seahawks have played the Bills in Buffalo just once since 2001, a 34-10 loss to open the 2008 season — Seattle beat Buffalo 50-17 in 2012 in a game played in Toronto as a Bills home game).
As such, Buffalo is the last NFL city Russell Wilson has not played in, of teams that haven’t moved, since he entered the league in 2012 (he hasn’t played in Las Vegas).
But this is a season when nothing is as it usually is. There will be no fans in the stands for Sunday’s game, and temperatures are expected to be in the ’60s as Seattle lucked out a bit in getting fortunate weather for a November game in Buffalo.
Let’s take a look at some of the keys to Sunday’s game.
Matchup to watch
Seattle’s new-look defensive line vs. Buffalo’s surging offensive line
A week after the Seahawks played their best defensive game of the year, they will add two new significant pieces to their defensive line — rush end Carlos Dunlap, end Rasheem Green (coming off injured reserve) And last week, rookie Alton Robinson saw his most significant action of the season, playing well and showing he needs to be a consistent member of the rotation (though Benson Mayowa is still struggling with an ankle injury and was ruled out). Seattle figures to need all hands on deck going against a Buffalo front that was named the offensive line of the week by Pro Football Focus for a dominating performance against New England in which the Bills for 167 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries from running backs Zack Moss and Devin Singletary. The best of the bunch may be fourth-year left tackle Dion Dawkins.
Player to watch
Strong safety Jamal Adams
One Seahawk who has been to Buffalo a lot is Adams, who played there each of the last three seasons with the New York Jets and will make his return to Seattle’s lineup for Sunday’s game after sitting out the last four with a strained groin. The Jets won there each of the last two years, including a 13-6 win last December in what turned out to be the last game Adams played for the Jets. After indicating early in the week that Adams might need to be on a snap count Sunday, Carroll on Friday said Adams had such a good week of practice that there is no reason to limit his playing time. “He was flying,” Carroll said. “I don’t see any reason to restrict him at all.”
Coaching decision to watch
To blitz or not to blitz?
A significant reason for Seattle’s improved defensive performance last week was a scheme heavy on blitzing — Seattle blitzed 24 times on 45 drop backs, reported by ESPN to be its highest percentage in any game since 2010 — and far above Seattle’s season percentage of 29.7 (according to Pro Football Reference, the Seahawks blitzed Jimmy Garoppolo 14 times and Nick Mullens 10 times). Both Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said the Seahawks may not always be quite that aggressive. And indeed, it made particular sense to pressure the hurting Garoppolo. Bills quarterback Josh Allen is far more mobile, having rushed for 227 yards this season (one facet of his game that had the Seahawks reportedly pretty interested in him coming out of the draft in 2018). According to Pro Football Reference, Allen is averaging 8.3 yards on 16 scrambles per game. Allen, though, has been more mistake-prone of late — after a 12-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the first four games, he has a 4-4 ratio the last four — to trying to force him into some quick hasty decisions makes sense.
Whose turn will it be for a big day — Tyler Lockett or DK Metcalf? Or, maybe, both?
Two weeks ago, it was Lockett with the career day of 15 receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns, tying a team record for receptions and second in yards. Last week, it was Metcalf with career highs of 12 receptions for 161 yards. Matchups, of course, help determine which receiver ends up with the bigger numbers — and all the Seahawks care about is that someone does. Metcalf could have the tougher matchup this week with some thinking the Bills might try to shadow him with cornerback Tre’Davious White, a first team All-Pro pick last season. Lockett figures to more often be matched up against nickel corner Taron Johnson, who has struggled, ranked 104th of 116 corners this season by Pro Football Focus. That might favor Lockett. But trying to cover Metcalf one-on-one has proven costly this season — per PFF Metcalf has 521 of his 680 yards this season against man coverage, the most in the NFL.
Player who could surprise
Right cornerback Tre Flowers
The much-maligned Flowers will get another start this week at right cornerback with Shaquill Griffin still dealing with a hamstring injury and ruled out Friday. Quinton Dunbar would again play on the left side to replace Griffin, with Flowers on the right side, where he started the last two seasons. Flowers is coming off statistically his two best games of the year since stepping in when Griffin was injured midway through the Arizona game, particularly last week against the 49ers. Flowers allowed five completions on eight targets against the 49ers, according to Pro Football Reference, but for just 34 yards and a rating of 71.9, his lowest of the year. He also forced a fumble. All of Seattle’s corners will be particularly challenged by Buffalo receiver Stefon Diggs, who ranks seventh in the NFL with 86.9 receiving yards per game.
Remember when 10 a.m. starts were the Seahawks’ collective Achilles’ heel?
No more, as Seattle long ago conquered that malady and has gone 18-6 in its last 24 10 a.m. Pacific time starts and has won 10 in a row — including all seven since the beginning of the 2019 season. Seattle has won two 10 a.m. starts this year — at Atlanta and Miami — and has one more scheduled at Washington on Dec. 20.
The final word
Seahawks 33, Bills 26
This always loomed as a “trap game’’ for Seattle, with a long trip lodged between games against two division rivals and Buffalo an improving team that is a somewhat surprising 6-2. But I’m sticking with the Seahawks because Russell Wilson gives Seattle the edge basically every week at the most important position there is. And now that Seattle’s defense appears on the uptick and is adding some significant personnel reinforcements, the Seahawks seem to finally be on the verge of becoming a complete team, assuming the running back injuries don’t get in the way.