FOXBOROUGH, Mass. Crisp, sunny fall Sunday in New England. Temperatures are going to be in the 40s with no rain and not much wind for kickoff of the Seahawks at the Patriots.
Among the many keys to this game I have below, the biggest to me is Michael Bennett not playing. Seattle’s Pro Bowl defensive end dominated the line of scrimmage the last time these teams played, in Super Bowl 49 in February 2015. He’s out after arthroscopic knee surgery. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, off to the best start of his Hall-of-Fame career, this past week said there is no better defensive player in the NFL than Bennett. The Seahawks must pressure and at least affect Brady, if not sack him, to slow down the Patriots. Not having Bennett in there makes Seattle’s largest task that much taller.
While the defense doesn’t have Bennett, the offense has someone it didn’t have in that Super Bowl against the Patriots. Jimmy Graham is coming off his most spectacular game as a Seahawk six days ago. He was my lead to the game-advance story in Sunday’s News Tribune.
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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (5-2-1) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (7-1)
Sunday 5:30 p.m., Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
TV: KING Channel 5 Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: This is the 18th meeting. You might recall the 17th: Tom Brady rallied the Patriots with two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes on Feb. 1, 2015. That turned Seattle’s 24-14 lead in Super Bowl 49 into a crazy, 28-24 New England win for the NFL title – sealed by Malcolm Butler’s interception of Russell Wilson at the goal line in the final seconds in Glendale, Arizona. Each team has won eight times in the regular-season series. This is Seattle’s first game in Massachusetts since Oct. 17, 2004. Corey Dillon ran for two touchdowns that day, Brady completed 19 of 30 throws with a touchdown and interception, and New England won 30-20 after intercepting Matt Hasselbeck twice and sacking him three times. The Patriots last home loss to Seattle was in 1993, when Rick Mirer beat Drew Bledsoe.
Line: Patriots by 7½.
Finally turn Wilson loose: Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said this past week the team had placed "reigns" on Russell Wilson since the third quarter of the first game eight weeks ago. That was when the do-it-all key to the franchise sprained his ankle. Then he badly sprained his left knee two weeks later. In exchange for him not sitting as doctors advised, Wilson didn’t run. Well, Monday night against Buffalo some of the reigns came off. He ran some and looked normal doing it. Now he says he feels his best since week one—"fast and strong…finally," he said. Bevell is likely to call more read-option runs for Wilson in this one than he has in the first eight games combined. And if Wilson is as healthy as he says he is, we may see his escaping and improvisational passes again. That would be the biggest development this offense has had all year – and at a time when it absolutely needs it, against a rested, favored kingpin on that top dog’s home field.
Find another source of pass rush: Tom Brady’s relieved Michael Bennett isn’t playing in this one. The Patriots’ All-World quarterback said this past week no defender in the NFL is better than Seattle’s Pro Bowl end. But Bennett is out for a couple more weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery. Brady is soaring; 12 touchdown passes, no interceptions, a 73-percent completion rate a league-best passer rating of 133.9. But the 39-year-old has uncharacteristically been sacked eight times in four games. Cliff Avril (nine sacks) is going to get New England’s blocking attention. That leaves Frank Clark with a chance to produce even a fraction of the pressure Bennett has been for two years.
Keep Graham happy. And early: Jimmy Graham is a different, devastating force when he catches passes early in games. No one will say what my eyes have seen: When Wilson doesn’t target him early, Graham appears to get disinterested and, at times, negligent. The Seahawks need him to be what he was in Buffalo: The exquisite tight end that dominates games even when covered and held onto, as he was catching two TD passes with one hand in the first half. They can’t afford him to drift from relevance at any point in this one.
The pick: This would be perhaps the greatest regular-season coup of the Pete Carroll era: Playing late into Monday night, flying 2,500 miles four days later then playing at a championship team on its home field with a legend at quarterback performing at his best – and without Seattle’s Pro Bowl defensive end. Bennett’s absence will mean less heat than the Seahawks might have gotten on Brady. And that will be decisive. Patriots 24, Seahawks 20.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
88 Jimmy Graham TE 6-7 265 seventh
Can he be that great 2 weeks in a row? He was for New Orleans. Wilson now trusts him
31 Kam Chancellor SS 6-3 225 seventh
"The Enforcer" is back after 4 games missed (groin). No break-in period. Must thump from the jump
55 Frank Clark DE 6-3 260 second
With Bennett out and NE likely to focus on blocking Avril, Clark needs to bring heat on Brady
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
12 Tom Brady QB 6-4 225 17th
At age 39 he’s off to best start of legendary career. But if SEA can somehow pressure him…
29 LeGarrette Blount RB 6-0 241 seventh
All attention on Brady, people don’t realize Blount co-leads NFL with 9 TD runs. Has 609 rush yds
87 Rob Gronkowski TE 6-6 265 seventh
Brady uses him, Martellus Bennett in NFL’s best TE pair. Chancellor may get task on inside seams