Russell Wilson? RG3? That Seahawks defense? Home field advantage? Let's take a closer look and break down this Sunday playoff match-up.
So the Seahawks opened up at -1.5 favorites on Sunday and by the time the clock struck midnight, it had already been bet up to -2.5. It took a few days, but -3's starting appearing on the board around mid-week. The good news for those of us that like the Seahawks (and have multiple books to shop at) is there are still -2.5's available for a bit extra juice. Most sharp books have the line around -2.75 with juice attached to favorable lines on each side (odds from SBRforum).
All the media talk for this game is focusing on the Wilson/RG3 match-up, which is fine, but that's not what I'm going to spend much time talking about here. Both have been phenomenal and it will be fun to watch, but I don't see either as having a huge edge over the other.
In fact, both offenses are near mirror images of each other - statistically speaking. Both QB's have above-average efficiency rankings and compliment top-notch running games. The pass protection for both teams are also below average, but not poor.
Both of these teams use a fair amount of option plays, which is no surprise to anyone who's watched RG3 and Russell Wilson this season. Determining whether these guys will run, pass, or fake is a chore on every other down.
So what is this game going to come down to?
Defense, Defense, Defense
Getting Brandon Browner back is a big boost to a defense that probably didn't need one. Not because they didn't miss Browner, but because this is already a stout defense across the board. They are above-average vs the run and on third down, and they rank near the very top vs the pass and in the red zone.
Two of these categories are why I really like Seattle to come out on top in this game. Offensively, both rank near the top rushing the ball and converting red zone chances into touchdowns. Yet, the Seattle D are great in these areas. The Skins D on the other hand haven't done a good job shutting down opposing rushing attacks or keeping people out of the end zone.
Defensively, I've crapped on the Redskins for most of the season. They are below average stopping the run, rushing the passer, disrupting drives, stopping people on third down (league worst), and keeping teams out of the red zone.
That said, up until December they were also atrocious vs the pass, but give Jim Haslett credit for masking a lot of their problems (both injuries and personnel). During the final stretch of games, they've climbed to a respectable middle of the pack ranking in the air. That's a huge improvement given where they were in the first two-thirds of the year.
Haslett has always been a river-boat gambler with his heavy and aggressive blitz schemes. Without the right personnel, this has usually backfired and it led to him getting canned in New Orleans. It didn't work in Washington either - up until very recently. The question is whether this is a nothing more than inspired play, or is something fundamentally better with this unit?
The Seahawks will go a long way in answering this question, not because they are juggernauts on offense, but because their schemes require defenses to play very disciplined and to maintain a lot of gap integrity. Will the secondary bite? Can the linebackers attack without overpursuing? If Seattle can continue executing at a high level, the Redskins defensive flaws could be exposed on Sunday.
I know you'll hear a lot about how the Redskins rank 5th vs the run, but total yardage is such a misleading stat that I don't even bother looking at it. What's far more important is the quality of yardage given up and whether opposing rushes turn into 1st downs and/or touchdowns. You also have to take into consideration the quality of opponent, the game situation, and whether yards against came earlier in the season or later.
In their 5 game win streak, the Seahawks have amassed an average of 200+ rushing yards and 38.6 points per game on offense.
The Seahawks defense has also faced two strong "read option" offenses this season in Carolina and San Francisco. Without question the RG3/Morris combo will give them problems, but by no means do I expect the Skins to dictate play.
And if this game comes down to who makes more plays in the air, I'll take Wilson vs the Skins secondary over RG3 vs Browner, Sherman, and Thomas.
This will be the second road team I take this weekend, which is enough to make me nervous in itself, but I think the Seahawks defense is good enough to overcome whatever home field advantage the Redskins might have. I know Seattle isn't as good on the road as they are at home, but let's not pretend like Washington are Super Bowl contenders either. I'm riding the better team here and even if I only had -3 available, I'd still make it a play.
NFL Pick: SEA -2.5.