1. What’s up with Richard Sherman?
One of the most accommodating, poised, media-friendly players not just in the Seahawks’ locker room but the league simply lost it this past week when he went after Seattle radio host Jim Moore. That was five days after Sherman also lost it at coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on the sideline, for calling a pass from the 1-yard line against the Rams. Sherman’s outbursts indeed look bad. They are inexcusable. But they are not inexplicable. Seems to me Sherman realizes the Seahawks’ window at realistic shots at Super Bowl titles won’t stay open forever. He sees Earl Thomas out for the year and talking about retirement. He sees fellow DB Kam Chancellor’s many injuries. He knows Pro Bowl ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are in their 30s. And, no one’s talking about it, but Sherman is now midway through the four-year, $56 million contract extension that ends after the 2018 season. He is demanding – for all to see – his team’s inconsistent offense begin pulling its weight immediately, in time for the playoffs that could set up Seattle just one home win from another NFC title game.
2. How did the Cardinals get this bad this quickly?
Arizona began 2-4. It had a chance to get back in the division race Oct. 23 at home against the Seahawks, but couldn’t score a touchdown and shanked a winning field goal in overtime of that 6-6 tie. The Cardinals are 2-5 since. Their defense has allowed 30, 30, 38, 26 and 48 points in those losses since last playing Seattle. The Cards got hurt and old seemingly all at once. Dominant safety Tyrann Mathieu missed five of those seven games - then went on injured reserve Friday. Carson Palmer, the wonder man behind Arizona’s 15-1 season of 2015, began looking like he’s turning 37 next week. He’s thrown eight interceptions and gotten sacked 22 times in the Cardinals’ last seven games. Palmer’s future in the "Valley of the Sun" is getting cloudy, with his scheduled 2017 salary-cap charge of more than $24 million looming. Larry Fitzgerald’s Arizona future is also in doubt. Even though he still rolling (NFL-leading 98 catches), the 33-year old has a $15 million cap hit next year, after which his contract is over. The Cardinals’ rapid demise makes Seattle’s five consecutive playoff appearances and two Super Bowls in the last three years more remarkable – and a caution that nothing lasts forever.
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3. Do members of winless 2008 Detroit Lions want the Browns to go 0-16?
At least one of them doesn’t. Seahawks Pro Bowl defensive end Cliff Avril was a rookie with those sad-sack Lions eight years ago. He wouldn’t wish 0-16 on a rival offensive lineman. "I try to forget about it. Honestly, it would suck if they do it, but they have to have pride in themselves and try to go win games," Avril said this past week of Cleveland. "I definitely don’t want anybody to go through that. Because that stigma, unless you win the Super Bowl, kind of sticks with you for the rest of your career. That’s tough." The Browns’ best chance to avoid becoming the fifth NFL team in 73 seasons to go winless comes Saturday: at home against the eliminated San Diego Chargers. Cleveland’s finale is at playoff-bound Pittsburgh. The Steelers have won 11 of their last 13 meetings with the Browns. "Hopefully, those guys can pull one off," Avril said, graciously. "It sucks to go 0-16. I know the feeling."
4. How is this NFC playoff picture shaping up for Seattle?
Remarkably favorably – especially considering how wildly inconsistent the Seahawks have been on their weird way to winning the West division for the third time in four years. Seattle is wins over Arizona Saturday and at awful San Francisco on New Year’s Day from securing the No. 2 seed behind Dallas in the conference playoffs. That would be a first-round bye and home game Jan. 14 or 15. That would leave the Seahawks one win from a return to the NFC title game. As it stands entering Saturday, that divisional round game at CenturyLink Field would be against either Detroit or the New York Giants. The Seahawks are currently set up to avoid in the second round either Green Bay, which just smashed them two weeks ago 38-10, or the NFL’s No. 1 offense in Atlanta. The Falcons lost in Seattle by two in mid-October – and may have won if officials had flagged Sherman for pass interference on Atlanta’s final play, as they should have. Take care of business these next two weeks and the Seahawks could be better off than they could have dreamed they would be when they trudged off Lambeau Field two weeks ago.
5. Who should be the league’s MVP?
To me, the award is for the player that makes one of the league’s best teams indeed the best, the one guy foes must at least slow down to have a chance to beat. Right now, that’s Tom Brady. The only losses New England has this season are to Buffalo when Brady was serving the final game of his suspension to begin the season, and to the Seahawks. They became the first team to intercept him this season. Seattle battered him and his receivers. Matt Ryan is a close second to Brady for MVP, for what he means to the Falcons who about to be the NFC South champions. And Aaron Rodgers is absolutely why the Packers have rebounded. But go beyond Brady’s crazy numbers – 22 touchdowns, two interceptions, the second-best passer rating behind Ryan, all at age 39. Ezekiel Elliott has been phenomenal for Dallas, but Dak Prescott can still beat you if Elliott doesn’t. Ryan has crazy-good Julio Jones dominating with him. David Johnson is on a losing Cardinals team. Focus on Le’Veon Bell while playing the Steelers, and Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown can still burn you. Now, as much as ever, you find a way to slow down Brady, you can beat the Patriots. If you don’t, you won’t.