There are NFL games that are must-win because of the stakes involved — playoff games or those with postseason berths on the line.
And then there are those that are must-win because they simply shouldn’t be lost. One team is obviously far superior, and a defeat simply is something that shouldn’t occur.
Though the NFL is the ultimate “anything can happen” endeavor, the Seahawks’ next two games fall into the latter category — a loss would feel unacceptable.
First up Sunday are the 4-7 New York Giants, listed as 10-point underdogs as the week wore on. It’s the first time the Seahawks have been double-digit favorites since being installed as 14-point favorites against Arizona at home late in the 2018 season (maybe ominously, Seattle needed a last-second field goal to win, 27-24).
After the Giants come the New York Jets (currently 0-11), with Seattle already listed as a 14-point favorites in early betting lines.
Yep, this is the favorable part of Seattle’s schedule, a chance to turn 8-3 into 10-3 while barely breaking a sweat. That’s the perception, anyway. Reality may be trickier. Regardless, these are two games Seattle must win.
On to some keys to this week’s game:
Matchup to watch
Seattle defensive front vs. Giants running back Wayne Gallman
In the wake of the injury loss of Saquon Barkley in the second game of the season, the Giants have turned over their running duties to Gallman. The fourth-round draft pick out of Clemson in 2017 who has started the past five games is coming off a career-high 94 yards on 24 carries in a 19-17 win over the Bengals on Sunday. Gallman isn’t flashy, averaging just 4.0 yards per carry, but he has scored a touchdown in each of the past five games. With the Giants likely starting backup quarterback Colt McCoy, New York figures to ride Gallman and the running game as much as it can. That, though, could play into the Seahawks’ hands — they rank third in the NFL allowing just 3.7 yards per carry this season and have held four of the past five opponents to 70 rushing yards or fewer.
Player to watch
WR DK Metcalf
Metcalf is becoming a must-watch player in the NFL, leading the league in receiving yards (1,039) with flair, and seemingly clashing weekly with an opposing defensive back. Metcalf has another interesting potential matchup this week against the Giants’ James Bradberry, who is rated as the 16th-best cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. According to PFF, Bradberry has the best grade of any cornerback in single coverage, is allowing a passer rating of just 68.7 overall and has not allowed a completion of longer than 28 yards. Metcalf, though, has 768 yards against single coverage, 200 more than any other receiver according to PFF. It should be another fun matchup. Just don’t expect any Giants assistant coaches to talk to Metcalf before the game.
Coaching decision to watch
Which running back to feature?
Chris Carson returned Monday from a sprained foot after missing more than a month. But it was Carlos Hyde who got the bulk of the work — 15 carries to Carson’s eight. Carson was far more effective, though, gaining 41 yards to Hyde’s 22, including a 16-yard touchdown. Both were limited in practice early in the week, Carson by some soreness in his foot after playing again and Hyde by a toe issue. But both are expected to play (Carson was a full participant in practice Friday). And Pete Carroll said he hopes to get the ball more to Carson, whose average of 4.9 yards per carry is the best of any back on the team (Hyde is averaging 3.8). The Giants, though, have been pretty stout against the run, allowing just 3.9 per attempt, seventh in the NFL. They have allowed more than 100 rushing yards to just one of their past six opponents.
The kicking game
The Seahawks hope the game won’t come down to a field goal or two. But if it does, each team has one of the league’s hottest kickers. Seattle’s Jason Myers is 15 for 15 this season and has made 26 in a row dating to last season. He needs four more field goals without a miss to tie Olindo Mare for first place on Seattle’s career consecutive field goals list with 30. New York’s Graham Gano, meanwhile, has made 25 of 26, his only miss coming from 57 yards in the second game of the year against the Bears — he has made 24 in a row since then.
Player who could surprise
Linebacker Jordyn Brooks
The Giants have legitimate receiving threats, including former Seahawk Golden Tate, but the player who may put as much fear as any into Seattle’s defense is tight end Evan Engram. Engram leads the Giants with 44 receptions and is second in receiving yards with 476 yards. He is coming off his best game of the year — six for 129 against the Bengals. Linebackers often draw the bulk of coverage against tight ends, with teams undoubtedly looking to go after the rookie Brooks instead of Bobby Wagner or K.J. Wright if they can. Brooks was solid against the Eagles, giving up three receptions on four targets but for just 13 yards and only one first down. For the season he has given up 15 receptions on 21 targets for 154 yards, via PFF, a passer rating of 92.2. (Wagner is allowing a rating of 91.7 and Wright 102.4.)
The Seahawks have scored a touchdown in 57 consecutive games. A TD against the Giants would tie the franchise-best streak of 58, set from 2012 to 2016. The last time Seattle did not score a touchdown was in a 17-9 loss in the 2017 season opener at Green Bay. Seattle has not scored a touchdown in only four other games during the Russell Wilson era (in 2012 at San Francisco and in 2016 at the Rams, Arizona and Tampa Bay). Taken another way, that means the Seahawks have scored at least one touchdown in every home game of the Wilson era. That streak should continue Sunday.
The final word
Seahawks 27, Giants 10
If Giants quarterback Daniel Jones were healthy, a case could be made that this might be a little scary for Seattle, if for no other reason than his ability to run. The Giants defense is good enough to make life somewhat difficult for the Seahawks. But with McCoy likely at QB for the Giants, the rapidly improving Seattle defense should be able to contain Gallman and the run and force New York to throw. Though that’s been problematic for Seattle much of the year, McCoy isn’t at the level of the QBs who have hurt the Seahawks this season, and the Giants’ best deep threat, Darius Slayton, has also been battling shoulder and foot injuries.