“If you’re going to be worth anything come playoff time, you’re going to have to beat a team like this.” — Pete Carroll to 710 ESPN, on facing Kansas City on Sunday night.
This is it — the game everyone (maybe even some Seahawks, ahem) wanted to see last week. As Pete Carroll said, this game against Kansas City will tell us everything we need to know about whether the Seahawks are good enough to do much damage in the playoffs.
As everyone hoped, this game means something to both teams, and they will be balling out the entire way Sunday night — the Chiefs trying to nail down the top seed in the AFC and the Seahawks just trying to secure a playoff spot after they badly whiffed against the 49ers.
The Seahawks have already lost three times to teams very much like the Chiefs (the Rams and Chargers), so this game will be a marker of their progress over the past six weeks — since they last played the Rams on Nov. 11.
Like the high-powered Los Angeles teams, the Chiefs — led by MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes — know how to score. They are the No. 1 team in the NFL (35.6 ppg) — three points better than the third-place Rams and seven points up on the fourth-place Chargers.
The Seahawks came up a total of 15 points short of the L.A. teams in those three earlier games, so the question is: Can Seattle finally beat one of the NFL’s best offenses?
The Hawks lost shootouts to the Rams — 33-31 and 36-31 — that came down to the wire. And their offense inexplicably self-combusted against the Chargers after the defense righted itself in the second half.
After the second loss to the Rams dropped Seattle to 4-5, the Seahawks went on to win four straight — three of them close wins against teams that were in the playoff hunt at the time.
The defense played its best game against Minnesota’s talented offense, even scoring a TD to help seal the win in the final few minutes. That gave us some hope that Seattle’s defense might be ready to rise up against high-powered offenses.
But then came the loss to the 49ers, in which the defense got blown up in the first half — as it often has this season. Sure, it didn’t help that Bradley McDougald left the game, but Bobby Wagner, Delano Hill and company did a poor job against the Niners’ tight ends in the first half.
Now they face maybe the best tight end in the game in Kansas City Pro Bowler Travis Kelce. And they also get the fastest receiver in the NFL in Tyreek Hill, who has scored 11 touchdowns. If K.J. Wright returns, as expected, he could help against Kelce. But Ken Norton will have to be creative to contain Hill — maybe using the six-DB approach that worked pretty well against the Vikings, if the Hawks even have that many defensive backs healthy for this game.
“We’re really excited about the challenge,” Norton said. “They have some really good players, really good skill players, and they’ve been lighting it up all year. A chance to play them to see where we stand at this point is exciting for us.”
On the bright side, the Chiefs’ defense is even worse than the Rams’ — giving up 27.1 ppg to the Rams’ 24.5. That should be good news for Russell Wilson and company, who put up their best point totals of the season against the Rams.
Of course, Seattle’s offense has muddled through a couple of mistake-prone games the last two weeks — Wilson playing one of his worst games vs. Minnesota and the line getting called for several key holding penalties in the loss to the 49ers.
If the Hawks can’t score 27-plus points in each of these last couple of games — Arizona is giving up 26.2 ppg — their offense probably will have major issues in the playoffs (assuming they get there) against Chicago’s No. 3 scoring defense (18.9) or Dallas’ No. 4 unit (19.2). New Orleans, the Super Bowl favorite, is tied with Seattle at seventh (20.9) and, also featuring the NFC’s best offense, would be a nasty foe to face.
The Hawks obviously would love the chance, though, and this game against the Chiefs will tell us definitively whether they’re good enough to get it.