BY Steve Rudman 02:29PM 11/14/2014

Seahawks face toughest slog to NFC playoffs

The Seahawks face the toughest road to the postseason of any team in the NFC. Seattle begins the gauntlet Sunday morning at Arrowhead Stadium.

Cornerback Richard Sherman will face a Chiefs’offense Sunday led by QB Alex Smith, who has thrown 11 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Considering that the Seahawks will take on the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday (10 a.m. PT, FOX) at Arrowhead Stadium minus 13 players who figured prominently in their Super Bowl victory over the Denver Broncos last February, they have done a mostly commendable job in compiling a 6-3 record.  Many defending champions crashed in their encore seasons long before Week 11.

But now comes the hard part. In fact, it couldn’t get any harder. Starting with the 6-3 Chiefs, the Seahawks have five different opponents remaining, including two games each with Arizona and San Francisco, that will determine the NFC champion.

Four of the five – Chiefs, Cardinals (Nov. 23, Dec. 11), 49ers (Nov. 27, Dec. 14) and Eagles (Dec. 7) – have winning records and two (Cardinals, Eagles) lead their divisions. The fifth, 3-6 St. Louis, already beat the Seahawks (28-26 Oct. 19).

Kansas City, which last season exited the postseason early after a 9-0 start, is the only team to have not allowed a rushing touchdown, which may pique Marshawn Lynch’s interest. They have also accomplished two things the Seahawks couldn’t: They won at San Diego 23-20 (Seahawks lost 30-21) and brutalized the Rams 34-7.

“They’re a well-coached defense. They’re really solid,” said Darrell Bevell, Seattle’ offensive coordinator. “They’re near the top in every important category whether it’s third down, red zone, rushing, passing. They’re coached well. They have good players. It will be a good challenge for us.”

“They also play really well on offense,” added Pete Carroll. “They take care of the ball. It’s hard to get big plays on them. The special teams are loaded and are as good as we’ve seen. (Coach) Andy (Reid), has got it together and knows what he’s doing.

“His quarterback (Alex Smith) is right under his wing, doing things the way he (Reid) wants. And of course, playing there (Arrowhead) just adds to it. It’s a big challenge for us, a really big-time opportunity going against Kansas City. Hopefully, we’ll continue to keep making progress.”

The Seahawks, who have struggled in almost every game since defeating the Broncos in overtime in Week 3, need to do that. Their remaining opponents are a combined 29-16 with a .644 winning percentage. No team in the NFC has a harder slog to the playoffs.

The following NFC teams have records ranging from 8-1 (Arizona) to 4-5 (Minnesota, New Orleans) and are the only clubs with realistic chances to make the playoffs. The records of their remaining opponents:

Team Opponents W-L Pct.
Seahawks KC 6-3, AZ 8-1, SF 5-4, Phil 7-2, StL 3-6 29-16 .644
Cardinals Det 7-2, Sea 6-3, Atl 3-6, KC 6-3, StL 3-6, SF 5-4 30-24 .555
Lions AZ 8-1, NE 7-2, Chi 3-6, TB 1-8, Min 4-5, GB 6-3 29-25 .537
Packers Phil 7-2, Min 4-5, NE 7-2, Atl 3-6, Buf 5-5, TB 1-8, Det 7-2 34-30 .531
Vikings Chi 3-6, GB 6-3, Car 3-6, NYJ 2-8, Det 7-2, Mia 6-4 27-24 .529
Eagles GB 6-3, Tenn 2-7, Dal, 7-3 Sea 6-3, Wash 3-6, NYG 3-6 27-28 .490
Cowboys NYG 3-6, Phil 7-2, Chi 3-6, Ind 6-3, Wash 3-6 22-23 .488
49ers NYG 3-6, Wash 3-6, Sea, 6-3 Oak 0-9, SD 5-4, AZ 8-1 25-29 .463
Saints Cin 5-3-1, Bal 6-4, Pit 6-4, Car 3-6, Chi 3-6, Atl 3-6, TB 1-8 27-37 .421

In addition to not allowing a rushing touchdown, the Chiefs have not allowed a 300-yard passer despite facing Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick and Philip Rivers. They have 28 sacks (to Seattle’s 18), including an NFL-high 12 by LB Justin Houston. In their past four games, the Chiefs have allowed an average of only 12.4 points.

Offensively, Kansas City ranks 14th in the NFL with 24.1 point per game, but the Chiefs are especially good on third downs, ranking third at 48.7 percent (Seahawks rank 14th at 41.4), and in the red zone, where 69 percent of their snaps result in touchdowns (Seahawks 55.3).

“They do everything well,” Carroll said. “They’re really good on third down. They’re really good in short-down situations. They’re really good in the passing game.”

They also make it hard to pass. Through 10 weeks, the Chiefs rank first in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 205.3 net yards per game (Legion of Boom allowed 172 last year). That puts Kansas City five yards clear of any team in the NFL. Best at defending the pass:

Team Net Yards Avoiding Big Plays
Kansas City 205.3 Ranks 3rd in NFL, allowing 3 TDs on 20+ yard passes
Miami 210.8 Allowed 24 passes of 20+ yards, added 30 sacks
Detroit 212.1 Allowed 23 passes of 20+ yards, but only 1 TD
Minnesota 213.6 25 20 yard+passes allowed (6 over 40), plus 30 sacks
San Francisco 215.2 49ers have allowed 7 TDs on passes of 20+ yards

To make matters worse for the Seahawks, Russell Wilson isn’t even averaging 200 yards per game (194.4). According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson holds on to the ball for an average of 3.05 seconds before he attempts a pass, is sacked or scrambles beyond the line of scrimmage.

No current starter dallies longer before getting rid of the ball than Wilson. By comparison, Peyton Manning unloads in 2.31 seconds, Tom Brady in 2.37 and Aaron Rodgers in 2.77.

Strictly on pass attempts, Wilson takes 2.81 seconds. No starter takes longer. Manning checks in at 2.29 and Brady at 2.32.

Either Wilson’s receivers aren’t getting open, or Wilson isn’t seeing them soon enough, or he lacks recognition, or he’s wary of throwing into tight windows for fear of an interception. Or maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Whatever the case, Seattle’s passing game isn’t working.

The Seahawks could no longer abide Percy Harvin and dispatched him to the New York Jets. We get why. But before they traded Harvin, Wilson had a passer rating of 99.74. Since Harvin left, Wilson’s rating is 78.57.


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