The rally for the playoffs starts now for Seattle, and how apropos that the Seahawks are facing the Green Bay Packers as it begins.
These teams have been intertwined like few others over the past 20 years — both on the field and off. This will be their seventh meeting in seven years, and — like many of these games over the past two decades — there will be some reunions: Jimmy Graham will return to Seattle and Brett Hundley will watch his old Packers teammates from the sideline.
On top of that, this game will be the head-to-head measuring stick for whether Russell Wilson deserves to be paid more than NFL salary leader Aaron Rodgers.
And, bigger than those personnel ties, this game basically will eliminate one team from the playoffs.
These teams each have four wins, which puts them in essentially a five-way tie behind the NFC wild-card leaders, Carolina (6-3) and Minnesota (5-3-1). Green Bay (4-4-1) has a slight edge due to its tie with the Vikings early in the season, but the losing team in this game will take a big hit in the NFC race.
The Seahawks face the Panthers next, so they have a chance to gain the edge on two wild-card contenders as they start their stretch run.
As many will point out, the Hawks are still in the middle of a QB-rich gantlet. Philip Rivers and Jared Goff both beat them; now they face Rodgers and then Cam Newton. Like Rivers and Goff, Rodgers and Newton are backed by strong running attacks — the Hawks were gashed by the Chargers and Rams despite running for big yards themselves. They are going to need to force some turnovers to win these next two games — they haven’t taken the ball away the past two games after getting 16 steals in the first seven. The Packers have turned the ball over 11 times this season.
The Hawks also need to limit explosive plays. In four of their five losses, they have given up at least 6.5 yards per play. The Packers are averaging 6.1.
This all means Wilson is going to factor big in these games — and will need to finish much better than he has so far.
The Hawks have yet to rally from behind to win this season (although they needed a last-play field goal to break a tie and beat Arizona), so they need to either jump up big on the Packers or else Wilson needs to rediscover the late-game heroics he was lauded for in his first five seasons (16 fourth-quarter comebacks in 55 wins).
He has just three fourth-quarter winning rallies over the past season and a half; the Hawks have lost 11 games by eight points or less during that time, so he’s basically 3 for 14.
Even with a great running attack this season, Wilson & Co. have not been good enough to compensate for the defense’s struggles against good offenses. These games require winning scores at the end, and Wilson has come up empty — in fact, he really is in the red as he has coughed up the ball for three game-losing turnovers.
Now he goes against the league’s best QB, and you can bet it will be a measure for both John Schneider and Wilson’s agent over whether Wilson should be paid more than Rodgers next offseason.
At this point, Wilson has better numbers than Rodgers this season — besting him in completion percentage, rating, TD passes and yards per attempt. But you know this head-to-head will factor into discussions as Wilson seeks to eclipse Rodgers’ deal next year.
The Packers are going to score some points against Seattle, just like the L.A. teams did, so it might well come down again to Wilson needing to make the winning play.
If he can do it, the Hawks will basically eliminate their longtime nemesis and take a step forward in the playoff race. If he can’t, there will be even more doubters about whether the Seahawks should pay Wilson next year.