The Seahawks may be as mysterious of a team entering the playoffs as any 11-win squad in league history.
Once standing 10-2 and as of mid-December holding control of the No. 1 seed in the NFC, Seattle finished by losing three of its last four — all to division foes, two at home and two by double digits to teams that didn’t make the playoffs — to limp into the playoffs.
The Seahawks outscored opponents by just seven points for the season — 19 other Seattle teams outscored opponents by more for the season, including six that didn’t make the playoffs — and they allowed the fifth-most points (398) in team history.
The counterpoint? Russell Wilson, who won’t win the MVP and may not even get any votes with the way Lamar Jackson played this year but who had an MVP-level year and whose presence alone seems enough to keep Seattle competitive in an NFC playoff race that seems pretty wide open.
Having to probably win three on the road to get to the Super Bowl mutes the optimism and excitement a little bit as the playoffs begin.
But all Seattle has to do this week is win one.
Here’s a look at some keys to the game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Seattle offensive line vs. Eagles defensive front
A big factor in Seattle’s 17-9 win over the Eagles on Nov. 24 was running for 174 yards on a day when blustery winds made it hard to throw the ball, the second most the Seahawks gained in any game all season. It was also the second most allowed this year by the Eagles and one of only five times all season that Philly gave up more than 100 in a game. The Eagles finished the year third against the run, giving up just 90.3 per game.
But Seattle did it that day getting a breakout game from Rashaad Penny, who had 129 yards, and with an offensive line anchored by left tackle Duane Brown. Penny is now out for the year, as is Chris Carson (who had just 26 that day but 1,230 for the season) and Brown won’t play due a knee injury while left guard Mike Iupati is a game-time decision with a neck injury. The Eagles, meanwhile, will counter with their usual veteran-laden defensive line led by tackle Fletcher Cox and end Brandon Graham.
COACHING DECISIONS TO WATCH
How much to stick with the run? And should they go uptempo more?
Seahawks fans may not need reminding that Seattle faced something of a similar scenario last year, going on the road to play a team it had had some success running the ball on in beating during the regular season and then trying to duplicate that strategy in the postseason. That didn’t work so well in Dallas as the Seahawks tried and tried again to run but were held to 73 yards in dropping a 24-22 decision to the Cowboys.
Of course, who knows exactly how Seattle will approach things now with a remade tailback corps of Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch, though it will obviously be really interesting to see how Seattle uses Lynch in week two. Coach Pete Carroll said Friday that Lynch is now fully in the game plan and recovered well physically from the 12 carries he got against the 49ers. And no one is suggesting they give up the run entirely. It is who Seattle is. But this might be a game to try to come out firing and see what happens.
As for going with more uptempo, Seattle credited moving at a little faster pace for picking up the offense last week (Seattle ran 24 plays in 12:46 in the first half against the 49ers in falling behind 13-0 and 47 plays in 20:10 in the second half in scoring 21 points and falling a yard short of another TD). But Seattle has often had some success going uptempo and has always resisted adopting it as a full-time strategy. Most likely, expect to see it in doses against the Eagles, but especially if the offense starts out slow.
PLAYER TO WATCH
WR Tyler Lockett
The first game against the Eagles was also the first for Lockett after his shin injury and subsequent two-night hospital stay, and he had just one catch — albeit for 38 yards — late in the game. Seattle is likely going to need more than that to win this one, and Lockett has looked back to his usual self in two of the past three games, including six catches for 51 yards and a marvelous, extemporaneous 14-yard TD that got the Seahawks going last Sunday against the 49ers.
Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney
He was my pick for this spot last week and remains here this week as he enters what is the fourth playoff game of his career. Clowney’s future is obviously uncertain, and any game with Seattle could be his last for the Seahawks while also presenting a lasting image as he heads off into likely free agency in March. He’d obviously rather head into the open market coming off a dominant playoff performance or two, but his lingering core muscle injury may not allow it. Seattle beat the Eagles last time without Clowney — that was the week he found out the extent of his injury. Seattle harassed Carson Wentz into four turnovers last time (two interceptions, two fumbles) and the Eagles into five overall, and a lot of Clowney would make a repeat performance that much easier.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
David Moore/John Ursua
With Malik Turner ruled out with a concussion and Jaron Brown questionable with a sprained knee as well as dealing with a family matter that caused him to miss practice Friday, Moore and Ursua could be the team’s number three and four receivers Sunday behind Lockett and DK Metcalf. Moore had a disappointing third season getting roughly half the snaps he did a year ago with 17 receptions for 301 yards and two TDs compared to 26 for 445 and five in 2018. Ursua, meanwhile, saw his first significant action last week and was almost the hero of the game with his late catch at the 1. Seattle is going to likely need something out of one or both to win this one.
That’s Seattle’s sack differential this season as the Seahawks gave up 48 sacks while getting just 28. Many analysts consider that one of the more proven predictors of long-term success in a season, and it’s yet another number that seems to make it somewhat confounding that Seattle won as many games as it did. Seattle, in fact, has had just two other seasons when it had a worse sack differential — the infamous 2-14 season in 1992 when the Seahawks were sacked 67 times while getting 46, and the 4-12 season of 1980 (got sacked 51 times, got 26 sacks). The Eagles had 43 this season while allowing 37.
THE FINAL WORD
Seahawks 27, Eagles 23
This has been a year of crazy back-and-forth games that the Seahawks usually find a way to win in the end. So why stop now? The Eagles are better positioned now than they were for Seattle’s win on Nov. 24 so expect a few more points this time. But also expect another game where Wilson makes a key play or two in the final moments to pull it out.