Week 13 Cheat Sheet: Seahawks are Wilson's team, and Vikings won't be able to stop him
Though it seems impossible to fathom now, it wasn't always Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Once upon a time, Brady was a piece of the puzzle. There was Belichick, first and foremost. Then, there was Brady, somewhere second or third or fourth in the conversation, of course. Make no mistake -- those first few Super Bowl champion Patriots squads weren't the Brady-centric teams that New England's had in recent years.
You can say the same about the Seahawks. Three playoff trips over the past three seasons that have landed seven postseason wins. Two Super Bowl appearances. One Super Bowl ring. One heartbreaking defeat. Yes, Russell Wilson has gotten the proper amount of media attention, respect and love.
But few would consider putting him in that top-three quarterback conversation, despite all the wins, the ring and the clutch play. And few would ever refer to the past three Seahawks squads as Russell Wilson's teams. It was a collective effort, and when we look back, names like Sherman, Lynch, Thomas, Chancellor and Wagner might come up simultaneously with, if not before, the quarterback.
Well, times are a changin' in Seattle.
With a five-touchdown performance on Sunday being the coronation of sorts, the 2015 Seattle Seahawks are Wilson's team.
Seattle's without Marshawn Lynch for the foreseeable future, without off-season acquisition and enormous red zone target Jimmy Graham for the rest of the year, and without a grip on the NFC West division lead. They're a wild-card hopeful in a wild NFC.
At 6-5 heading into Week 13, this isn't the season anyone expected back in August. The defense hasn't been nearly as dominant as it's been in the past, the 12s have seen two odd losses at CenturyLink Field, and there were an alarming amount of fourth-quarter collapses in the first two months of the conference title defense.
And yet, Seattle's still alive and well. Hell, they're better than that. They're catching fire. If the playoffs were to start this weekend (Note: They do not), Seattle would be in the tournament. For a team that's won the last two conference titles, that's all these guys need.
They've got more experience, they're more savvy, and perhaps have bigger chips on their shoulders -- having been counted out several times already this year -- than anyone else in the field. Heading into Sunday's showdown with the Vikings on FOX, the Seahawks are more than just breathing; they're the team no one -- not Minnesota, not Carolina, and not Arizona -- wants to face.
That's a credit to undrafted running back and breakout star Thomas Rawls and a once-mighty defense that's gotten the job done when it matters, despite being bent, broken and ridiculed.
But make no mistake. More than anyone, it's a credit to Wilson.
He won a standoff with management that lasted most of the off-season and got the big money this off-season, did a cover story in "Rolling Stone" with some curious quotes that made national news, and he made drastic changes in his personal life that have suddenly made him the subject of tabloid and TMZ Sports fodder. But Wilson is playing some of the best football of his career. And each week, he's only putting more and more on his shoulders.
Wilson struggled mightily against the blitz over the first seven games of the season. In the last four contests, he's been far better. Those high sack numbers that were tossed around on the studio shows for weeks have gone down drastically, both because of improved offensive line play and a better awareness in the pocket from Wilson. He's been accurate and the offense hasn't missed much of a beat despite key injuries across the board. If the season ended today, Wilson would set career marks in completion percentage (67.7), YPA (8.38) and passer rating (102.9).
In Sunday's shootout win over the Steelers, the Seahawks needed Wilson to have a big day. He set personal records for passing yards (345) and touchdowns (five) against a rested defense coming off of a bye.
That's a credit to every player and coach on the team. It always is.
But for maybe the first time in his four-year career, it's primarily a credit to the quarterback.
Week 13 Cheat Sheet Trivia Question: DeSean Jackson has 19 TDs of 60+ yards, and is now tied for 4th in NFL history. Who holds the record?
And now, on to my picks.
Week 12 Record: 7-9
Overall Record: 92-84
This week's podcast: Former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson puts the listener into his ex-teammate Johnny Manziel's shoes, insists that sticking with Matt Hasselbeck over Andrew Luck in Indy isn't "ludicrous", and wonders why Aaron Rodgers' intensity is looked at differently than Michael Jordan's.
Green Bay at Detroit: In addition to having the best name in all of football, Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter's gotten the very best out of Matt Stafford in a short amount of time, too. Over his last three games -- all wins -- Stafford has completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 861 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception. He's been raving about Cooter, and the Lions are somehow still alive in the NFC's muddied playoff picture. Aaron Rodgers played on Thanksgiving last week, too. Neither he nor his team looked as good as Stafford or his. I'm taking Detroit.
The Pick: Lions 30, Packers 23
Final: Packers 27, Lions 23
Houston Texans at Buffalo Bills: Every remaining game is a playoff game for these two teams from here on out. And as much as I ridiculed the Texans and their commercial TV star defensive end the first half of the season, I have an enormous amount of egg on my face now. After embarrassing losses in which the defense gave up over 40 points to the now-anemic Dolphins and Falcons offenses, the unit is playing at an elite level. J.J. Watt leads the league in sacks, is my pick for Defensive Player of the Year, and is, indeed, carrying this team on his back. Fun stuff and great football going on in the AFC South, a division I prematurely wrote off in September.
The Pick: Texans 20, Bills 16
San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears: Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio each have a little something extra at stake in this one. Gase was a finalist for the 49ers head coaching job this past offseason, only to lose out to Jim Tomsula. Fangio, of course, was the longtime 49ers defensive coordinator let go along with Jim Harbaugh at the end of last season. The Bears are in the hunt, the 49ers are not.
The Pick: Bears 22, 49ers 16
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: The Patriots have a one-game lead in the conference standings, but are suddenly bruised, battered, and down playmakers. The Bengals? Whether you believe in them or not (I know, I know, many of you do not), they're relatively healthy. Tyler Eifert, who got dinged up last week, has 12 touchdowns and had three against the Browns last month, and Geno Atkins had his best game of the season last week vs. what was supposed to be a potent Rams running attack. I'll be on the sidelines for the FOX broadcast Sunday, and I am knocking on wood, already. If the Bengals can stay healthy these final few weeks -- they weren't last year down the stretch -- they can do big things in January (and maybe February).
The Pick: Bengals 24, Browns 16
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins: I know about 20 Baltimore snowbirds who bought flights, tickets and hotel rooms for this one back in April when the schedules were released. I doubt any of them imagined seeing Kaelin Clay, Daniel Brown, Buck Allen and Terrance West star for their Ravens. Miami's favored here, I know, but this Ravens team is playing with house money. No coaches' jobs are on the line, there's very little expected from these backups, and the team seems to be having fun -- just ask the Browns.
The Pick: Ravens 27, Dolphins 21
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings: A Kevin Burkhardt-John Lynch special and my favorite game of the week. It's going to feel like it's from 1992. The two top rushing offenses in the sport, playing in wintry conditions outdoors, with playoff implications galore. And who do I like? Give me the Seahawks on the road. Since Wilson's rookie year in 2012, Seattle's 12-2 in December. I'll take history on my side.
The Pick: Seahawks 23, Vikings 20
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I picked against the Panthers the last two weeks, and they've promptly beaten the Redskins and Cowboys by a combined 47 points. I watched the last few games on tape this week and if Panthers guard Trai Turner isn't an All-Pro this year, the system is flawed. Crazy things can happen in New Orleans. But not this crazy.
The Pick: Panthers 34, Saints 21
New York Jets at New York Giants: Every four years, the New York media makes something out of this battle and it is fun to get caught up in it. The last two times the Giants beat the Jets in the regular season, they won a Super Bowl. Those Giants teams had functioning offensive lines, though. I still like Big Blue in this one, but only because the Jets covered the Giants Super Bowl posters with black tarp last time they played. That upset Brandon Jacobs at the time, and it still upsets me.
The Pick: Giants 29, Jets 24
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams: I don't care if the Rams are down 75-0, Todd Gurley needs to get more than nine carries in a game. Whether they're in Los Angeles next year or St. Louis, I hope to see a different offensive game plan. It's been painful watching this unit the last few weeks. The Rams beat the Cardinals in Arizona a few weeks ago, but it might as well have been years ago. I don't see how the offense scores enough to be competitive.
The Pick: Cardinals 27, Rams 16
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa Bay had a 12-6 lead at the half in Indianapolis, but couldn't put the Colts and 40-year-old quarterback Matt Hasselbeck away in the second half. The Bucs defense focused on stopping the run, forced Hasselbeck to beat them, and he shredded them. Fortunately, they're still alive and well in the wide open NFC playoff chase. The Falcons, who started the season red hot, can't seem to get right. This feels like a "Do or Die" game for both teams, and I'll take Jameis Winston over Matt Ryan in the battle of ex-ACC quarterbacks.
The Pick: Buccaneers 27, Falcons 23
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans: Didn't these teams just play on a Thursday night? Was that not enough? I liked Bortles over Mariota then and I like Bortles over Mariota this time. It was nice to see Julius Thomas make an appearance last week for the Jags. For $9.2 million a year, he should make some plays from time to time.
The Pick: Jaguars 33, Titans 22
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders: My upset pick of the week. I'm taking the Raiders. The Chiefs are red-hot, but I loved what I saw out of the Raiders defensive backfield last week. A sore spot all season, the corners held it down and got the job done. David Amerson, who struggled with the Redskins last year, had seven pass breakups and an interception in the win. Oakland's offense got back to what it'd been doing well the first half of the season, and I see the home crowd playing a factor.
The Pick: Raiders 30, Chiefs 20
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers: There are too many puns already. "Brock On" was the "Sports Illustrated" cover, but I've heard "Let's Brock," "Brock and Roll" and "Like a Brock." The last one is just lame. "Like a Brock"? Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band may have sold out to a car commercial years ago, but even they have to be shaking their heads. Osweiler's the real deal, though, and should get the best of Phil Rivers in this one.
The Pick: Broncos 17, Chargers 16
Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots: It's tough to see the Eagles winning this one after what we've seen from them the last two weeks, even if the Patriots are suiting up Tom Brady and a bunch of guys off the street on offense. Chip Kelly's dream quarterback is off in Nashville playing for Mike Mularkey (Mike Mularkey!), while he's left with Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez. The local media is fired up in Philly, and after giving up 90 points in two weeks, it's hard to blame them. I don't see things getting better Sunday.
The Pick: Patriots 34, Eagles 17
Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers: No Andrew Luck. No Mike Adams. Two offensive tackles starting for the first times of their careers at their respective positions. And sure enough, there was Matt Hasselbeck last Sunday, throwing the ball 42 times for 315 yards and two touchdowns in a win. There's no question Luck is the starter when he's healthy, but in the meantime, Hasselbeck has won four straight starts and has kept the Colts atop the AFC South. If last week wasn't enough of a signature win, Sunday night in Pittsburgh will be. I like the Colts, a rejuvenated team under their ageless wonder.
The Pick: Colts 34, Steelers 31
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: Don't look now, but Kirk Cousins is making himself quite a bit of coin in his walk year. He's also getting the job done for the Redskins. Washington is a mess on the road, but doesn't lose at home. Without Tony Romo, the Cowboys are just a mess.
The Pick: Redskins 27, Cowboys 20
Reader Email of the Week:
I don't have video evidence of it, but my grandmother -- 84-years-old -- dabbed on Thanksgiving. She doesn't know who Cam Newton is if he walked by her, but she likes his touchdown celebration. We weren't expecting it, and boom! She broke it out. Tore the house down. This is the greatest craze since the Macarena. I'm allowed to enjoy it, right?
Tyler, Tenafly, New Jersey
Once I saw Chris Berman "dab" on national TV, I knew there was no turning back. A local news weather woman in Iowa, Frank Beamer, Urban Meyer, and countless more have done it. Hillary Clinton will learn about it soon enough and do it on the "Ellen" show, too. Like the Macarena, it's not going anywhere. It makes people smile. Might as well enjoy the ride.
Week 13 Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer: Jerry Rice had an NFL record 23 TDs of 60-plus yards.