The NFL 1st round celebrates its rookie quarterbacks on Sunday. After warming up with Andrew Luck in action in Baltimore early, the action then shifts an hour south to Washington D.C, with the showdown between Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. Let’s take a closer look at the Seattle-Washington game (4:30 PM ET, Fox), from the matchup, to some historical perspective, and wrapping it up with a look at the betting lines.
THE MATCHUP: Washington’s offensive formula has been very simple. They run the ball extraordinarily well, 2nd in the league in rush average, in spite of attempting the third-most number of rush attempts (normally high volume depresses the average). They do with RG3 on the read option and Alfred Morris pounding it the conventional way between the tackles. Griffin leads a very efficient passing attack—even though Washington doesn’t pass a lot, they get the most yardage per attempt, and it’s capped off by having the fewest turnovers in the NFC.
Seattle’s plan isn’t all that different. Wilson isn’t as spectacular as Griffin, nor does he run the read option, but the Seahawk quarterback is mobile and he’s fourth in the NFL on yards per attempt. Seattle’s running game, led by Marshawn Lynch fifth in the league and no team in the league runs the ball more. Just like the Redskins, Seattle takes care of the ball well.
Thus, we have a setting where each team will try and control the line of scrimmage, take care of the ball and find select spots for hitting the big play. Both defenses are susceptible against the run and neither team ranks high in getting sacks, so that would suggest the offenses can have their way. But the Seahawks have the personnel to rush the passer, led by defensive end Chris Clemons, and Washington’s defense has been coming on in recent weeks, highlighted by the constant blitzing they threw at Dallas last Sunday night.
If we dig a little deeper, you start to see edges for Seattle. RG3 is wearing a knee brace, which will obviously take away at least a little bit of his mobility. The Redskins’ defense is unlikely to find the same success blitzing that they did against Dallas. Wilson is more elusive than Tony Romo and if the Seattle quarterback breaks containment, his chances of hitting the big play are much better. And I find it hard to believe too many offenses would be as unimaginative as Dallas was in countering the blitz, never really trying draws, traps or screens.
Finally, we come to this—Washington’s defense has been improved the last five weeks of the season, but it would be a stretch to say they’re really great. Seattle’s defense has been really great, and it’s been so all year.
Against all this, which obviously favors Seattle, you ask how much homefield advantage is worth. Seattle only won three games away from home all year, and one of them was in Toronto against the Bills—not a true road game. Washington’s FedEx Field will rock on Sunday like few environments Seattle has faced this year. The Seahawks won in Chicago late in the year, but it seemed most everybody was winning in Chicago late in the year.
THE CONTEXT: The last two Washington playoff seasons, 2005 and 2007, each ended with losses in Seattle, so there’s a revenge factor—at least for the fans, and for Santana Moss, the veteran Redskin receiver who was there for the Joe Gibbs-led playoff runs. Regular readers know I also like to find some example of the cities playing in some other sport—and here we have a reprise of the NBA Finals battles in both 1978 and 1979, with each city taking home one crown.
THE VIEW FROM VEGAS: The betting markets like Seattle—even on the road, they’re giving three, suggesting the same matchup out west would have the Seahawks favored by close to a touchdown. Given how well this team is playing right now, that seems fair, although with Washington having won seven in a row, it’s not as though they’re slumping. The Over/Under is at 46, a number I find high for two teams who are likely to feel each other out by pounding in the running game.
PREDICTION: I’m a Redskins fan, so I’m not making a pick here. I’m not picking against my team and if we lose a heartbreaker by two points I don’t want any false consolation in a cover. The only thing I’ll predict is that on Sunday night, I’ll either be disconsolate, or once again launching a petition drive to make RG3 the first-ever American monarch. It will be a night of extremes, one way or another. I will say this—as much I respect Seattle, I feel good going in.