Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (5-0) at Arizona Cardinals (4-2)

The Seahawks are 5-0, but four of their five wins have come by one score. That isn’t anything new for the Seahawks, who have 14 wins by one score or less over the past two seasons, as opposed to 2 losses in one score games. In fact, in games decided by more than one score, the Seahawks are just 2-3 over the past two seasons. A team’s record in close games tends to even out in the long run and, while it might make sense that an elite quarterback like Russell Wilson could consistently pull out close victories, even elite quarterbacks don’t consistently win close games and, before the start of last season, Wilson was just 30-34 in his career in one score games.

Wilson is arguably playing as well as he ever has in his career right now, but even still, the Seahawks aren’t winning easily. Wilson probably won’t play quite this well all season, so the Seahawks will need their defense to play better to compensate or they could very easily start losing some of these games. They’re capable of playing better defensively, but it probably won’t be until they get stud safety Jamal Adams back from injury, which won’t be this week. That’s a problem for the Seahawks, who will be on the road for a key divisional game against the Cardinals, who sit just a game and a half back in the standings right now.

The Cardinals haven’t played a tough schedule, but they’ve won the first down rate battle in 5 of their 6 games, including a 3-point loss to the Lions in which they won the first down rate battle by 10.50%, but lost the turnover margin by 3. The Cardinals rank 2nd in the NFL in first down rate differential at +6.10% and, even adjusted for schedule, they rank 6th at +3.61%. They’re probably overachieving right now, particularly on defense, and could regress, but even still, they’re certainly the kind of team that can give the Seahawks a competitive game and even pull the upset as home underdogs.

I have this line calculated at Seattle -1.5, so we’re getting good value with the Cardinals as 3.5-point home underdogs. The Seahawks are in a good spot coming off of a bye and road favorites of 3 or more are 75-40 ATS off of a bye since 1989, but I don’t know if that should apply, given that this line is too high. It’s enough to deter me from making a bigger play, because good teams often come out of their bye improved, but the Cardinals are still worth a bet, especially since they’re in their own good spot off of a blowout Monday Night Football win, as teams are 64-42 ATS since 1989 off of a MNF win by 21 or more points.

Seattle Seahawks 34 Arizona Cardinals 33

Pick against the spread: Arizona +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (1-3) at Seattle Seahawks (4-0)

Russell Wilson has been one of the top quarterbacks in the league throughout his career, but he’s never started a season this well, completing 75.2% of his passes for an average of 9.38 YPA, 16 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, with 95 rushing yards in 4 games. The Seahawks overall rank 2nd in the league with a 44.80% first down rate, only behind the Green Bay Packers. This is as talented of an offensive supporting cast as Wilson has ever had, but there’s no denying how valuable Wilson has been for this team thus far. Wilson has somewhat famously never gotten an MVP vote, but it’s safe to say he’ll be in the mix this year if he continues playing this well.

The concern for the Seahawks is that, as well as Wilson is playing, they still aren’t blowing out most of their competition. They won by 13 points week 1 against the Falcons, but the Falcons are one of the worst teams in the league and their other three wins have come by one score, including games against the Cowboys and Dolphins. This isn’t anything new, as the Seahawks won 10 of their 11 wins by one score last season.

The Seahawks’ defense, which ranks 19th in first down rate allowed at 40.68%, is a definite concern, as the Seahawks could see some of their close wins turn to losses if Wilson falls back to earth the rest of the way. Those defensive concerns are even bigger this week with the Seahawks missing safety Jamal Adams due to injury, as Adams is arguably their best defensive player and the top safety in the league.

The Seahawks face a 1-3 Vikings team at home in Seattle this week, but they won’t have their normal homefield advantage and the Vikings are better than their record suggests, as they’ve had some things go against them that are very inconsistent week-to-week, like their -4 turnover margin (5th worst in the NFL), their 22.22% fumble recovery rate (2 of 9, including 1 for 7 on fumbles forced), and the 15 of 15 field goals that opponents have hit against them.

In fact, the Vikings actually rank just slightly behind the Seahawks in first down rate differential (+4.12% vs. +3.84%), despite the fact that they’ve faced a much tougher schedule. DVOA doesn’t have them quite as close, but the Vikings rank 13th, 7 spots behind the Seahawks, which still suggests we’re getting significant line value with the visitor. They should be able to keep this game close like most teams do with the Seahawks and they should also have a better chance to come in and get the straight up win than most expect, especially if Wilson has an off game.

My only concern with this game is the Seahawks are going into their bye, which is usually a good spot for a big home favorite. Since 2002, home favorites of 7+ are 63-25 ATS before a bye. However, the Seahawks are barely 7-point favorites and these two teams are more evenly matched than this line suggests, so I’m not sure this trend applies. My calculated line is just Seattle -4.5, giving the Seahawks 1.5 points for homefield advantage. I don’t like the Vikings as much as my typical Pick of the Weeks, but I don’t see a better option this week. I would be surprised if Seattle was able to win this game by multiple scores, barring some fluky outlier plays.

Seattle Seahawks 31 Minnesota Vikings 27

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Seattle Seahawks at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (3-0) at Miami Dolphins (1-2)

The Seahawks have gotten off to an impressive 3-0 start, but their defense hasn’t been great, ranking 23rd in first down rate allowed, primarily due to their struggles on the defensive line. Their defensive line was expected to be a weakness coming into the season, but the Seahawks’ talented secondary looked like it could make up for that and it hasn’t been quite as good as expected. Making matters worse, cornerback Quinton Dunbar will miss his second straight game with an injury, while stud safety Jamal Adams will join him for his first game sidelined, further weakening their defense.

The Seahawks have a relative easy matchup this week in Miami, but they do have to travel cross-country and Miami has the kind of offense that can move the ball relatively easily on this defense, especially in garbage time. I wouldn’t expect the Seahawks to lose this game, but the Dolphins could easily keep it relatively close or come up with a backdoor cover late. My calculated line suggests we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Seahawks as 5.5-point road favorites, but I’m not confident in them at all.

Seattle Seahawks 33 Miami Dolphins 27

Pick against the spread: Seattle -5.5

Confidence: None

Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (2-0)

It’s funny how narratives change. In 2018, the Cowboys went 10-6 with a 8-2 record in games decided by 7 points or less and they were seen as a team that was good at closing out games. In 2019, they went just 0-5 in games decided by 7 points or less with largely the same team as 2018, causing them to fall to 8-8 and out of the playoffs, and they were seen as a dysfunctional team that couldn’t close. That seemed to carry into week 1 of this season, when they lost a winnable game by a field goal to the Rams, but then in week 2 they completed a ridiculous 20-point comeback to win a game by 1 point that they statistically had just a 0.1% chance of winning with 2:52 left in the game.

The Cowboys wouldn’t have gotten a chance to come back if the Falcons didn’t seemingly forget the onside kick rule at the end of the game, but they also could have easily won their week 1 game in Los Angeles had they not decided to go for it rather than kick a field goal down three and there were some fluky things that led to the Cowboys needing to come back against the Falcons in the first place, like the Cowboys losing a trio of fumbles. 

The Cowboys lost the turnover battle by 3, but still managed to win the game, something that only happens in about 10.3% of cases of a team with a -3 turnover margin, and they won the first down rate battle by a margin of 10.80% that is much more convincing then their margin on the scoreboard. Combine that with their slight first down rate margin win in week 1 against the Rams and the Cowboys have a +7.25% first down rate differential on the season that ranks 3rd in the league. That’s more or less in line with their +4.28% first down rate differential in 2019 (4th in the NFL), when their poor performance in close games caused them to miss the playoffs.

Ordinarily, that would be a good sign for the Cowboys going forward because a team’s record in close games tends to even out in the long run, but the Cowboys are one of several teams in the league that have been destroyed by injuries early in the season. They are without their dominant offensive tackle duo of Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, pass catching tight end Blake Jarwin, starting linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee, starting cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown, and possibly top defensive lineman DeMarcus Lawrence. 

The Cowboys schedule also gets a lot tougher this week when they head to Seattle. Playing in Seattle isn’t what it once was because of the lack of fans, but this is also arguably the best Seahawks team in years and the Seahawks are relatively healthy compared to the rest of the league. I have the Seahawks 4th in my roster rankings and 6 points ahead of the beat up Cowboys. 

This line shifted from -1.5 on the early line last week to -5 this week, but it arguably didn’t shift up enough, as even with a limited homefield advantage you can definitely make an argument for the Seahawks being favored by more than a touchdown in this one. The Cowboys’ propensity to keep games close is enough for me to not wager on the Seahawks as 5-point favorites, but they may just be too outmatched talent wise in this game with all of the key players they are missing. If DeMarcus Lawrence winds up missing this game and the line doesn’t shift significantly, I may reconsider a bet on Seattle.

Seattle Seahawks 31 Dallas Cowboys 24

Pick against the spread: Seattle -5

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (1-0) at Seattle Seahawks (1-0)

The Patriots’ first season without Tom Brady got off to a good start last week, as Cam Newton and company led the team to a 21-11 win that could have been a lot more lopsided if not for a missed makeable field goal and a fumbled potential touchdown. Overall, the Patriots finished with the 2nd best first down rate differential of the week at +14.59%, only behind the Ravens, who blew out the Browns. The Patriots were only playing the Dolphins, but it’s still good to see them handle them relatively easily. 

This is a completely different style of play from their underwhelming offense a year ago, with the Patriots incorporating a number of option runs that led to Cam Newton carrying the ball 15 times for 75 yards, more yardage than Brady has had in a single season since 2011. The Patriots’ offensive line is much healthier this year and, while they still lack downfield weapons in the passing game, they could follow a run heavy/strong defense style of play to a good amount of success, especially if Cam Newton continues to look as healthy as he did in week 1.

The Patriots get a much tougher test this week though, with a trip to Seattle on deck. Playing in Seattle won’t be as difficult as normal because of the lack of live crowd noise, but there are a couple key reasons why it won’t be easy. For one, the Seahawks look to have as good of a team as they’ve had in years, especially if they continue letting Russell Wilson handle more of the offensive load. Their defensive secondary has been completely reloaded with the additions of Quandre Diggs, Quinton Dunbar, and Jamal Adams over the past calendar year and are a headlining unit for a team that currently ranks 4th in my roster rankings.

The second reason is that this is a night game played between a west coast and an east coast team and, due to differing sleepcycles, the west coast team has a big advantage in night games, covering at about a 65% rate all-time. The Patriots aren’t far behind the Seahawks in my roster rankings in 10th and this line would be fair if this was a day game, but given the sleep cycle advantage, I would go with the Seahawks for pick ‘em purposes. There’s not enough here for them to be worth betting, but they should be the right side.

Seattle Seahawks 26 New England Patriots 20

Pick against the spread: Seattle -4

Confidence: Low

Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)

The Seahawks weren’t as good as their 11-5 record suggested last season, as they went 10-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less and just 1-3 in games decided by more than a touchdown. They also lost Jadeveon Clowney this off-season and he was arguably their best defensive player last season. Despite that, I still have the Seahawks ranked 11th in my roster rankings, due to the incredible job they’ve done rebuilding their secondary. 

This off-season, the Seahawks added cornerback Quinton Dunbar and safety Jamal Adams to a unit that already saw significant improvement down the stretch last season after adding Quandre Diggs in a deadline trade. Including top cornerback Shaq Griffin, the Seahawks have arguably the best secondary in the NFL, which buoys a roster that is otherwise underwhelming around the quarterback and that is especially weak on the defensive line.

That being said, I don’t really like the Seahawks’ chances week 1, for a couple reasons. For one, they typically are a much better team later in the season, going 38-39-6 ATS in week 9 or earlier and 49-26-2 ATS in weeks 10-17 since Pete Carroll’s first season in 2010. Breaking that down even further, the Seahawks are just 6-13-1 ATS in weeks 1 and 2 over that stretch. This is a well coached team that normally figures it out by the end of the season, but they don’t usually start strong.

The second reason I don’t really like the Seahawks’ chances this week is simply that the Falcons won’t be an easy opponent. I have the Seahawks 11th in my roster rankings, but the Falcons are just one spot behind. I don’t have them making the playoffs, but that’s primarily due to a brutal schedule. The Falcons finished last season 7th in first down rate and 24th in first down rate allowed, giving them the 15th ranked first down rate differential in the league, and offensive performance tends to be much more consistent on a year-to-year basis than defensive performance. They also enter the season without injury concerns.

The Falcons won’t need to have a great or even a good defense to be a competitive football team and if they can be even just a few spots better than last season on defense while continuing their offensive performance, they could easily be a playoff caliber team. Given that, I think they’re a little underrated, opening the season as 2.5 point home underdogs. The Falcons won’t have their normal homefield advantage and very few games are decided by 3 points or fewer, so this won’t be a big bet, but I would consider increasing the play if this line happens to move to a field goal.

Atlanta Falcons 26 Seattle Seahawks 23 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +2.5

Confidence: Medium

Seattle Seahawks 2020 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Seahawks won 11 games and made the post-season last year, their 7th post-season trip in 8 seasons with Russell Wilson, but they played a lot worse than their record suggests. Of their 11 wins, only one came by more than a touchdown and they actually had a losing record on the season in games decided by a touchdown or more at 1-3. At least two of their wins came because the opponent missed a makeable field goal at the end of the game. 

Their +7 point differential was more in line with an 8-8 team and, going into week 17 last season, the Seahawks actually had the worst point differential ever for a 11-4 or better team. In terms of first down rate differential, they were even worse, ranking 19th at -1.17%, worst among playoff qualifiers, as they relied heavily on a +12 turnover margin to win many of those close games, something that tends to be highly unpredictable on a year-to-year and week-to-week basis. If the Seahawks want to win double digit games and make it back to the post-season in 2020, they’ll likely need to elevate their level of play.

The Seahawks’ offense was not the problem in 2019, as they ranked 12th in first down rate at 37.00%, unspectacular, but above average. The Seahawks’ offense has consistently been above average throughout Wilson’s tenure in Seattle, despite Wilson not always having the best supporting cast. Last year was arguably Wilson’s best season, as he finished a career high 3rd among quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus, completing 66.1% of his passes for an average of 7.97 YPA, 31 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, while adding 4.56 YPC and 3 touchdowns on 75 carries.

Overall, Wilson has been a top-16 quarterback on PFF in every season of his career, including 5 of 8 seasons in the top-7 among quarterbacks. Over his career, he’s completed 64.5% of his passes for an average of 7.87 YPA, 227 touchdowns, and 68 interceptions, while adding 5.55 YPC and 19 touchdowns on 720 carries. In addition to being a high level quarterback, Wilson is also incredibly tough and durable, having never missed a game in his career (128 starts) despite routinely taking significantly more hits than your average quarterback. Because of that, the Seahawks have never invested in a backup for him and will once again go with veteran Geno Smith (72.2 QB rating, 31 career starts). Needless to say, he’d be a significant dropoff from Wilson if he had to see action.

Grade: A

Receiving Corps

There were once again a lot of issues with Russell Wilson’s supporting cast last season, but an obvious strength were their top-2 wide receivers, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Both players earned above average grades from Pro Football Focus and they had slash lines of 82/1057/8 and 58/900/7 respectively, despite playing on a relatively run heavy offense. That’s not surprising from Lockett, who had a 57/965/10 slash line in 2018, but Metcalf was just the 64th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and was considered very raw entering the league, so few expected a big rookie year from him.

After his impressive first season in the league, Metcalf looks like he could develop into one of the better wide receivers in the league long-term, even if it takes him a few seasons to get there. In 2020, he’ll need to avoid a sophomore slump to take a step forward. Lockett, meanwhile, finished in the top-34 among wide receivers on PFF last season for the 3rd times in 5 seasons in the league and is still in his prime in only his age 28 season, so he should remain an above average receiver for at least another couple years. This could be one of the better wide receiver duos in the league for years to come if Metcalf can continue developing quickly.

The Seahawks really lacked a 3rd option in the passing game last season though, as no other pass catcher topped 349 receiving yards and a whopping 40.6% of their passing targets went to either Lockett or Metcalf. Among wide receivers, David Moore ranked 3rd with 34 targets received, turning them into 17/301/2, while Malik Turner (242 snaps), Jaron Brown (374 snaps), and Josh Gordon (136 snaps) also saw notable action. Moore remains, but the other three are all gone, leaving Moore to compete with free agent acquisition Phillip Dorsett, 2019 7th round pick Josh Ursua (11 rookie year snaps), and 6th round rookie Freddie Swain for the #3 receiver job and for reserve roles.

The two veterans, Moore and Dorsett, are likely the favorites for the job, but both would be underwhelming options, hence why they’ll have to compete with inexperienced late round picks. Moore was selected by the Seahawks in the 7th round in 2017 and has been middling at best in limited action over the past two seasons. He’s best as a situational deep threat, as he’s caught just 43 of his 87 career targets (49.4%), but for an average of 17.3 yards per catch, 6th most among players with at least 40 catches over the past 2 seasons.

Dorsett, meanwhile, comes over from New England on a close to minimum level deal. He was a first round pick by the Colts in 2015 and then was traded to the Patriots for Jacoby Brissett two seasons later, but he was a disappointment for both teams, earning mediocre grades from PFF throughout his 5-year career and never topping more than 33 catches in a season, despite ample opportunity with the Patriots over the past two seasons. Whoever wins the #3 receiver job figures to be underwhelming.

At tight end, Jacob Hollister led the way with a 41/349/3 slash line, even though he didn’t join the team until week 6. The 2017 undrafted free agent wasn’t bad in the first significant action of his career, but he’ll face competition for playing time, with 2019 week 1 starter Will Dissly returning from injury and free agent Greg Olsen arriving from Carolina on a 1-year, 7 million dollar deal that suggests he’ll at least have a big role, if not start.

Dissly was drafted by the Seahawks in the 4th round in 2018 and has shown a lot of upside as both a blocker and a receiver (2.43 yards per route run), but he’s suffered a torn patellar tendon and a torn achilles tendon over the past two seasons respectively, limiting him to just 376 snaps total. It’s possible he could break out in a starting role if healthy and he’s still only going into his age 24 season, but he’s still unproven and his durability and long-term athleticism after a pair of significant injuries are both big question marks.

Olsen has also had injury problems over the past three seasons, limited to 30 games total over that stretch. Prior to the past three seasons, he finished in the top-12 among tight ends on PFF in 5 straight seasons and averaged a 77/969/5 slash line over that stretch, including a 3-year stretch from 2014-2016 where he was the only tight end in the league to surpass 1000 yards receiving in all 3 seasons, but he’s been limited to a 51/575/4 slash line per 16 games over the past 3 seasons and is now going into his age 35 season, so, even if he can stay healthy, he’s likely to be a significantly diminished player from what he was in his prime. He’s not a bad starting option, but he comes with a lot of uncertainty. 

Along with 4th round rookie Colby Parkinson, who could also be in the mix for a role, the Seahawks are hoping they can find a couple productive players at the tight end position, to mask their lack of depth at the wide receiver position, but that’s far from a guarantee. This isn’t a bad receiving corps, talented by a talented top duo, and their overall depth is better, but they may still lack a consistent 3rd option in the passing game.

Grade: B

Running Backs

The Seahawks have always been a run heavy team in the Russell Wilson era, in part because of Wilson’s propensity to take off and run himself, but also because this offense loves to feed the ball to running backs as well. Chris Carson has been the beneficiary of that over the past two seasons, totalling 525 carries in 29 games, which he has taken for 4.54 YPC and 16 touchdowns, leading to him ranking 11th and 7th in rushing grade among running backs on Pro Football Focus over the past two seasons respectively. 

Unfortunately, Carson’s 2019 season was ended in week 16 by a serious hip injury and, making matters worse, backup running back Rashaad Penny, who has flashed with a 5.26 YPC average on 150 carries in 2 seasons in the league since being drafted in the first round in 2018, also suffered a season ending injury that week, going down with a torn ACL. With #3 back CJ Prosise also injured at the time, the Seahawks had to turn to 6th round rookie Travis Homer and former lead back Marshawn Lynch, who was signed out of retirement.

Carson is expected to be ready to return for week 1, even if he spends most of the off-season rehabbing, but Penny is very much in doubt for the start of the season and Prosise is gone. Likely in an attempt to avoid last year’s disaster situation, the Seahawks added a pair of reinforcements at the position this off-season in veteran Carlos Hyde and 4th round rookie DeeJay Dallas. Dallas is probably more of a long-term play, barring significant injuries to guys ahead of him on the depth chart, but Hyde is an experienced back who figures to open the season as the #2 back until Penny is able to return and he provides insurance for Carson as well, as not only is Carson returning from a significant injury, but he also has a history of significant injuries.

Hyde has primarily worked as a lead back in his career, averaging 13.4 carries per game in 80 games in 6 seasons in the league, but he figures to be a true backup as long as Carson is healthy, as Carson figures to regain his 2019 role. Hyde’s career 4.08 YPC average is underwhelming and he does nothing on passing downs (129 catches in 80 games with a 3.87 yards per target average, while struggling as a pass protector), but he’s coming off arguably the best season of his career, rushing for 1,070 yards and 6 touchdowns on 245 carries (4.37 YPC) with the Texans in 2019, and he’s a perfect fit for what the Seahawks look for in a running back, as they value tough between the tackles runners and don’t often throw to running backs out of the backfield (Carson has just 57 catches over the past 2 seasons). He’s useful depth behind Penny and Carson, who have injury concerns, in a deep backfield overall.

Grade: A-

Offensive Line

Russell Wilson has consistently had offensive lines that have struggled in front of him. That was the case last season and, while they made significant changes this off-season, it seems likely that will remain the case in 2020. Of their five regular starters last season, two of them, left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Germain Ifedi were set to hit free agency and, while Iupati returned, the Seahawks also cut center Justin Britt, ahead of an 8.5 million dollar non-guaranteed salary, and right guard DJ Fluker, ahead of a 3.75 million dollar non-guaranteed salary, so the Seahawks will have at least three new starters upfront this season.

Left tackle Duane Brown is the only starter locked in at the position he played last season, understandably so, as he was by far their best offensive lineman. That’s been the case since Brown arrived in Seattle in 2017, as he’s finished in the top-25 among offensive tackles in all 3 seasons, including a 20th ranked finish in 2019. That streak of high level play actually goes back a full decade, as his last finish outside of the top-25 at his position was his 2nd season in the league in 2009. Over that ten year stretch, Brown has finished in the top-10 at his position in 5 of 10 seasons and he’s been one of the consistently better left tackles in the league overall. His age is a concern in his age 35 season though, especially given how important he is to this line. He could easily decline noticeably this season and the Seahawks really can’t afford that happening, given the state of the rest of this group.

Iupati is probably locked in at left guard too. He was underwhelming last season, but he was a capable starter and, with the Seahawks having to replace right guard DJ Fluker already, it’s unlikely that Iupati won’t be able to lock up a starting job. Even though Iupati was a marginal starter in 2019, the big news is that he played all 16 games, after missing 21 games over the previous 2 seasons combined. Iupati is going into his age 33 season, so his days of being an above average starter like he was in his prime are almost definitely gone, but if he can remain healthy he could remain a capable starter for another couple seasons.

The Seahawks didn’t add any veterans to replace Fluker, so they’ll have to turn to someone inexperienced to replace Fluker. Fluker didn’t play at a particularly high level last season, but it’s hard to see how any of his replacements would be a significant upgrade. Their options are 2019 4th round pick Phil Haynes, who didn’t play a snap as a rookie, 3rd round rookie Damien Lewis, and 2018 5th round pick JaMarco Jones, who played 317 snaps as a versatile reserve last season in the first significant action of his career, seeing action at left tackle, left guard, and right guard. Jones might be their best option because he has some experience, but the Seahawks like his versatility as a reserve and may opt to keep him in that role. There’s also an outside chance two guards from that group start, sending Iupati to the bench, but that’s unlikely in an underwhelming group.

At center and right tackle, the Seahawks did make veteran additions this off-season, signing BJ Finney and Brandon Shell respectively. Shell, a 5th round pick by the Jets in 2016, has developed into a capable starter over the past 3 seasons (37 starts). He may have reached his ceiling, but his 2-year, 9 million dollar deal is pretty fair for his skill set and it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade by default over Germain Ifedi, who finished last season 72nd out of 89 qualifying offensive tackles.

Finney, meanwhile, only has made 13 starts in 5 seasons in the league as a reserve, but he’s played pretty well in limited action and his 2-year, 8 million dollar contract suggests he’s viewed as a full-time starter in Seattle. Finney is a versatile player who has played both center and guard, but he has a much clearer path to playing time at center, without another capable center on the roster. Finney is a projection to a larger role, so he’s not a guarantee to be an upgrade over Britt, who finished last season 25th out of 36 qualifying centers, but he comes with some upside. Overall, this group should struggle again in 2020, especially if Duane Brown regresses significantly at left tackle.

Grade: C+

Edge Defenders

The Seahawks’ biggest problem last season was their defense, which ranked 25th in first down rate allowed. They had the 3rd most takeaways at 32, behind the Patriots and Steelers, who were also the top-2 defense in first down rate allowed, but turnover margin tends to be unpredictable on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis and defenses that rank significantly higher in takeaways than they do in overall team defensive stats almost always see significant regression in their takeaway total the following season. The Seahawks are never going to be a team that turns the ball over a lot because Russell Wilson is one of the least turnover prone quarterbacks in the league, but I wouldn’t expect them to match their +12 turnover margin from last season, which will have a noticeable effect for a team who won so many of their games by a thin margin last season.

In addition to natural regression in takeaways, this defense also lost some key players this off-season, most notably edge defender Jadeveon Clowney. The Seahawks haven’t ruled out a reunion with Clowney, but as of right now he’s not on the roster, after a 2019 season in which he finished 9th among edge defenders on Pro Football Focus, despite playing most of the second half of the season through injuries. Clowney’s sack total (3) wasn’t overly impressive, but he added 10 hits and a 11.4% pressure rate while dominating against the run and he did all that while being consistently double teamed. His absence will have a noticeable effect on a defense that had a lot of problems to begin with.

In Clowney’s absence, the Seahawks have a variety of options to try to replace him, although none have Clowney’s upside. The Seahawks signed a pair of veterans in free agency in Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa to deals of 1-year, 5.5 million and 1-year, 3.05 million and they used 2nd and 5th round picks on Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor and Syracuse’s Alton Robinson. They also have 2019 first round pick LJ Collier set for a bigger role after an injury plagued rookie season in which he was limited to just 152 mediocre snaps and they have a pair of holdovers in Rasheem Green and Branden Jackson who could also be involved.

Both Green and Jackson were both pretty mediocre last season, but Green was a 3rd round pick in 2018 and still has some upside, so he’s likely to still be involved, while Jackson is an 2016 undrafted free agent who has struggled throughout his career and may not be a lock for a roster spot at a position group with a lot of options. Collier also still has significant upside, despite his terrible rookie year, though it’s worth noting many considered Collier in the 2nd-3rd round range, rather than the late first where the Seahawks took him. Darrell Taylor also has upside and could earn a role as a rookie, but Alton Robinson seems better suited for a deep reserve role at this stage of his career.

Veterans Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa should also be in the mix. Mayowa struggled early in his career, but has been a solid rotational player on an average of 404 snaps per season over the past 4 seasons and, still in his age 29 season, could see a similar role with the Seahawks this season. Irvin, meanwhile, is coming back to where his career started, spending the first 4 seasons of his career in Seattle before spending the past 4 seasons with the Raiders, Falcons, and Panthers. Irvin is now going into his age 33 season and has been noticeably worse over the past two seasons, earning middling at best grades from PFF after being an above average starter for most of his prime. He’s still played 540 snaps per season over the past two seasons and should still have a role in 2020, but he could continue declining. 

The Seahawks will have to determine roles in this group in training camp and the pre-season. They have plenty of depth, with Bruce Irvin, LJ Collier, Benson Mayowa, and Rasheem Green being most likely to see significant snaps and Darrell Taylor, Branden Jackson, and Alton Robinson also potentially in the mix, but they lack a clear top edge defender and there’s unlikely to be one that emerges from this group to even come close to effectively replacing Jadeveon Clowney. Until they bring back Clowney, this looks like an underwhelming group.

Grade: C

Interior Defenders

The Seahawks also lost players on the interior of their defensive line, losing Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods. Woods was a strong run stuffer, while Jefferson was a capable pass rusher (9.7% pressure rate), so they’ll be missed, especially since the Seahawks did nothing to replace them. As a result, they have little depth on the interior, in contrast to the edge where they have up to 7 options for playing time. They also don’t really have top end talent at this position either, with Jarran Reed and Poona Ford, their top holdovers from 2019, looking locked into starting roles.

Ford has shown a lot of promise as a run stuffer in 2 seasons in the league, flashing on 231 total snaps as an undrafted rookie in 2018 and then carrying that over into a larger role in 2019, playing 506 snaps total and finishing 17th among interior defenders on Pro Football Focus in run stuffing grade. He may be overmatched in an every down role though, as he’s not much of a pass rusher, with 0.5 sacks, 3 hits, and a 4.2% pressure rate in his career. He should play at a high level on early downs, but on passing downs he’ll probably be a liability.

Reed, meanwhile, was a well-rounded player as a solid starter for the Seahawks in 2017 and 2018, but he missed the first 6 games of 2019 with suspension and was not the same upon his return, earning a middling grade from PFF. Only in his age 28 season, the 2016 2nd round pick has bounce back potential, but he was never as good as his 10.5-sack total in 2018 suggested and it’s surprising the Seahawks couldn’t re-sign him to a more favorable deal as a free agent this off-season given how last season went for him, bringing him back on a 2-year, 23 million dollar deal that pays him as an above average starter and lets him hit the open market again before he’s 30.

Ford and Reed may be solid starters, but depth is a big problem. Bryan Mone, who played just 89 snaps last season, is the only other player at the position who played at least 1 snap for this defense last season and they didn’t add any reinforcements. Despite being a highly unproven 2019 undrafted free agent who struggled in what limited action he’s seen thus far, Mone could still have a big role as a rotational reserve in 2020. 2019 6th round pick DeMarcus Christmas would also seem to be an option, even though he didn’t play a snap as a rookie. Depth is a huge problem at this position and their starters aren’t good enough to compensate.

Grade: C

Linebackers

Despite their issues on the defensive line and other parts of this roster, the Seahawks surprisingly decided to use their first round pick on off ball linebacker Jordyn Brooks. The Seahawks have had one of the best linebacker duos in the league over the past decade or so with Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright and, even though Wright is on the wrong side of 30 and seems to be on the decline, the Seahawks also used a 3rd round pick in last year’s draft on off ball linebacker Cody Barton, who seemed like a potential future starter, so linebacker didn’t seem like much of a need. They also used 5th round picks in 2018 and 2019 on Shaquem Griffin and Ben Burr-Kirven, so they had solid young depth as well. On top of that, Brooks was considered by many to be a 2nd-3rd round prospect and the Seahawks drafted him one spot ahead of Patrick Queen, who was arguably the top off ball linebacker in the draft class.

Brooks’ draft status suggests he’ll play as a rookie, but he may be limited to being the 3rd linebacker and only playing in base packages, as Wright could keep his every down role for another season. Wright had earned an above average grade from Pro Football Focus in each of his first 8 seasons in the league prior to last season (108 starts), but he fell to about average last season in 16 starts and now is heading into his age 31 season. He may have another couple solid seasons left in the tank as an every down player, but he could also continue declining and obviously his long-term future with the team seems shaky, given all the draft capital they’ve spent on the position in recent years.

Bobby Wagner is also now in his 30s, as of this summer at least, and he’s also coming off of a relatively down year, but for him that means he finished 12th on PFF among off ball linebackers after 3 straight seasons in the top-4 prior to last season, including back-to-back seasons as the #1 overall player at the position in 2017 and 2018.  Wagner could continue declining over the next few seasons, but he should remain an above average every down linebacker, something he’s been throughout his 8-year NFL career (118 starts). Wagner and Wright might not be what they once were, but the Seahawks have no shortage of promising young depth players.

Grade: A-

Secondary

The one big addition for the Seahawks on defense this off-season was cornerback Quinton Dunbar, or at least it seemed that way when he was acquired. Dunbar had a breakout season with the Redskins in 2019, starting all 11 games he played and finishing 3rd among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus overall, but the Seahawks were still able to get him for just a 5th round pick this off-season. Dunbar flashed in the first four seasons of his career prior to last season, but he made just a combined 14 starts over those 4 seasons, so he’s a complete one-year wonder, and he’s never made it through a full 16-game season without missing time with injury. He’s also going into the final year of his contract and wants a big extension, which is why the Redskins wanted to move him, but he was still an obvious steal for a 5th round pick.

Unfortunately, the situation has changed since Dunbar was acquired, as he was arrested for armed robbery in May. The details of the case are still unclear and it seems like there’s at least a chance that Dunbar was set up, but it’s a serious legal situation that complicates his status for the season. Even if he doesn’t end up facing legal charges, he could still be subject to league discipline, although the league usually lets the legal process play out first, so he may not be suspended realistically until 2021 at the earliest. If he can play, he should be a solid starter even if he regresses from last season, but it’s not a guarantee he’ll be allowed to play.

If the Seahawks have Dunbar available, they’ll have a solid cornerback duo with him and incumbent #1 cornerback Shaq Griffin. A 3rd round pick in 2017, Griffin was up and down in his first 2 seasons in the league (27 starts), before breaking out with an 11th ranked finish among cornerbacks on PFF in 2019. He’s still a one-year wonder in terms of playing at that level, but he’s an experienced starter who is only going into his age 25 season, so he could easily develop into a consistently above average starter long-term.

If Dunbar is out, the Seahawks would likely have to turn back to Tre Flowers, who has made 30 starts over the past 2 seasons, but has finished 103rd out of 126 qualifiers and 110th out of 135 qualifiers among cornerbacks on PFF in coverage grade in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Flowers is still young, in his age 25 season, and he’s a solid run defender, but the former 5th round pick is far from a guarantee to ever develop into a capable coverage cornerback. It makes a lot of sense that the Seahawks would bring in Dunbar as an upgrade over him and if the Seahawks have to go back to Flowers because of Dunbar’s off-the-field situation it would be a big blow to this secondary.

Tre Flowers could still be the 3rd cornerback, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the primary slot cornerback, as the Seahawks are much deeper at safety than they are at cornerback and could easily use 3 safeties together in sub packages with regularity. 2019 4th round pick Ugo Amadi could also be in the mix for the #3 cornerback job, after playing 76 nondescript snaps as a rookie last season.

If the Seahawks decide to go with three safeties as their primary sub package look, 2019 2nd round pick Marquise Blair seems like the best option to cover the slot. Blair was a relatively high pick and showed a lot of potential on 230 snaps as a rookie, but he doesn’t have a clear path to a starting job at safety and could be a natural fit on the slot. At safety, Blair’s biggest competition for a starting job is Bradley McDougald, who has made 39 starts for the Seahawks over the past 3 seasons. He finished 33rd among safeties on PFF in 2017 and 25th in 2018, but fell to 72nd out of 100 qualifiers in 2019 and is now going into his age 30 season, so it’s possible Blair could push him into the #3 safety role, but it’s unlikely and he’d probably have a big role either way, as will Blair likely.

Quandre Diggs is locked in as an every down player at the other safety spot, after being acquired from the Lions for a 5th round pick at last year’s trade deadline, which proved to be a steal, as Diggs was PFF’s 4th ranked safety from week 8 on after joining the Seahawks. Diggs had been a capable starter throughout the previous two and a half seasons with the Lions, showing his versatility by playing both safety spots and on the slot, but the Seahawks got the most out of him by playing him as a single high safety on almost every snap, something the Lions never did with him. 

Diggs probably won’t be quite as good as he was down the stretch last season, but it’s entirely possible he’ll have a big of a late career breakout in his age 27 season, his 6th season in the league, now in a spot that seems to fit him the best. The Seahawks’ cornerback depth is suspect, especially with Dunbar potentially looking at a suspension, but if he can play, This secondary has a massive upside if Griffin, Diggs, and Dunbar can all play like they did last season. The downside is there as well there.

Grade: B+

Conclusion

The Seahawks weren’t as good as their record suggests last season and that’s the baseline coming into this season. On top of that, they lose probably their best defensive player from last season in Jadeveon Clowney. However, this defense could be significantly better on the backend if Quinton Dunbar is able to play, as Dunbar and 2019 mid-season addition Quandre Diggs would really boost this secondary, potentially back to “Legion of Boom” esque levels, although that’s far from a guarantee. The Seahawks also appear to be slightly improved in the receiving corps and on the offensive line, even though they didn’t make any major off-season additions. The Seahawks are probably still behind the 49ers in the division, but they could still qualify for one of the three wild card spots depending on how everything shakes out. I will have an official prediction closer to the start of the season.

Final Update: The Seahawks are not getting Jadeveon Clowney back, but Quinton Dunbar will be available for the start of the season and this secondary got even better when they added Jamal Adams via trade from the Jets. The Seahawks paid a steep price for Adams, giving up a pair of first round picks for a playoff who will also command a market resetting contract extension in the next year or so, but he undoubtedly makes them a better football team. The Seahawks might not be able to catch the 49ers in the NFC West, but they’re equipped to potentially go on a deep playoff run as a wild card.

Projection: 10-6 (2nd in NFC West)

Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers: 2019 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Seattle Seahawks (12-5) at Green Bay Packers (13-3)

The Packers won 13 games and got a first round bye in the NFC, but they didn’t play as well as their record suggests, barely pulling out some close victories. They went 8-1 in games decided by 8 points or fewer and 4-0 in games decided by 5 points or fewer and ranked just 9th in the NFL in point differential at +63, the worst ever point differential by a team with 13 or more wins. Fortunately for the Packers, they open the post-season at home, where they are 43-22 ATS since 2011 in games that Aaron Rodgers starts and finishes, and they play a Seattle team that is also not as good as their record.

The Seahawks won 11 games, but just one by more than a touchdown and had a +6 point differential that is 14th in the NFL and 3rd worst ever by a team with 11 or more wins. While the Packers are around a 10 or 11 win caliber team that won 13 games because of close wins, the Seahawks are around an 8 or 9 win caliber team that won 11 games because of close wins. Two of the Seahawks’ wins came because the other team shanked makeable field goals that would have ended the game. If not for those two misses, the Seahawks easily could have missed the post-season entirely. They won their opening round playoff game in Philadelphia, but likely would have lost had Carson Wentz not gotten hurt in the first quarter, as the Josh McCown led Eagles got inside the Seahawks’ 30-yard line five times, but managed just three field goals and two failed 4th downs in a 17-9 loss. 

The Seahawks also are in much worse injury shape than the Packers. While the Packers are as healthy as any team left in the playoffs, the Seahawks are without linebacker Mychal Kendricks, running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, left guard Mike Iupati, and possibly defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, left tackle Duane Brown, and backup left tackle George Fant. Despite their injury situation and the Packers’ significant edge in point differential and first down rate differential (+1.15% vs. -1.17%), the Seahawks are only 4-point underdogs in this game in Lambeau, where the Packers are very tough to beat with Aaron Rodgers under center. I have this line calculated at Green Bay -7.5, so we’re getting great line value with the Packers at -4. This is my biggest play this week.

Green Bay Packers 31 Seattle Seahawks 23

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -4

Confidence: High

Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 NFC Wild Card Round Pick

Seattle Seahawks (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

These two teams met in Philadelphia back in week 12, with the Seahawks winning a game that was 17-3 before a late Eagles touchdown cut it to a one score game. The conventional thinking is that the Seahawks shouldn’t have much trouble winning again in Philadelphia, but that historically has not been the case, as teams are 32-19 ATS over the past 30 years in same-site rematches against non-divisional opponents, including 15-5 ATS when the previous matchup was week 11 or later. 

The Eagles also played better than the final score suggested in that game, with the game largely swinging on the turnover margin, which the Seahawks won by 3. Outside of 3 snaps, the Eagles played the Seahawks evenly and might have actually outplayed them, winning the first down rate battle by 5.73%. Turnover margin is highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Eagles won’t necessarily lose the turnover battle this week just because they did in the previous matchup. In fact, teams have an average turnover margin of -0.1 in a same-season rematch against a team who won the turnover battle by 3 or more in the previous meeting.

The Eagles didn’t just win the first down rate battle in the first matchup either, as the Eagles finished with a higher first down rate differential at +1.97% on the season, as compared to -1.17% for the Seahawks. The Seahawks won two more games than the Eagles, but of the Seahawks’ 11 wins, all but one came by one score or fewer, including two wins because of last second missed makeable field goals. The Seahawks actually finished just 1-3 in games decided by more than one score. Close wins got them into the playoffs, but blowout wins tend to be much more predictive of future success than close wins. The Eagles had 3 wins by 17 points or more and finished with a higher point differential at +31 vs. +7.

The Eagles have some key injury absences, but that was the case in the first matchup as well. In fact, if both tight end Zach Ertz and right tackle Lane Johnson can play through their questionable labels, the Eagles might actually be in better injury shape in this game than in the previous matchup, as Johnson didn’t play in the first game, along with a number of other key players. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are missing left tackle Duane Brown, left guard Mike Iupati, running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, and linebacker Mychal Kendricks from the first matchup. 

I’m somewhat concerned that this is Carson Wentz’s first career playoff start and teams are 14-32-1 ATS with a first time starter at quarterback, but the Eagles have plenty of playoff experience around Wentz on the roster and on the coaching staff, so they might end up being an exception to the rule like Pat Mahomes and Kansas City were last year. Even with Johnson and Ertz out, I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so I like the Eagles enough as 2.5-point home underdogs to bet them even if Ertz and Johnson can’t play, but if Ertz and/or Johnson are able to go, this will be a larger bet.

Update: Ertz is playing, but Lane Johnson is not. Johnson is the more important player so I am keeping this as a medium confidence pick.

Philadelphia Eagles 20 Seattle Seahawks 17 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +2.5

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (12-3) at Seattle Seahawks (11-4)

The Seahawks have been overrated for most of the season, as 10 of their 11 wins have come by 8 points or fewer. Last week, they got embarrassed at home in a 27-13 loss to the last place Cardinals, pushing their record on the season in games decided by more than a score down to 1-3 and their point differential down to +12, worst ever for a 11-4 team. Last week’s loss might have swung them to underrated a little bit, however, as this line has shifted significantly in the past week, going from even on the early line last week to San Francisco -3.5 this week, a huge swing considering 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer. 

The Seahawks played badly last week, but that was their worst game of the season and the absences of left tackle Duane Brown, cornerback Shaq Griffin, cornerback Quandre Diggs, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney were a huge part of the reason why they struggled. Brown is their top left tackle, Griffin and Diggs are their top defensive backs, and Clowney is their best defensive lineman, so those were huge absences. 

Brown and Diggs remain out and running back Chris Carson joins them, but Clowney and Griffin return, giving the Seahawks a big defensive boost and the Seahawks signed free agent Marshawn Lynch, who is a solid replacement for Carson. Casual bettors might not pay attention injuries or may underestimate their impact, so just like the Seahawks were overrated last week, they may be underrated this week. Even if they are not underrated, they’ve historically bounced back really well off of losses in the Russell Wilson era, going 27-11 ATS, including 7-3 ATS with 6 straight up wins in 10 games as underdogs.

The 49ers also have their own injury problems, missing defensive end Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander, defensive end Ronald Blair, center Weston Richburg, safety Jacquiski Tartt, among other less important players. They haven’t been quite the same since their win in New Orleans, largely due to injury absences, and yet they’re favored by 3.5 points in this matchup. I don’t think there’s quite enough here for the Seahawks to be worth betting, but I like their chances of bouncing back and at least keeping this one close.

San Francisco 49ers 24 Seattle Seahawks 23

Pick against the spread: Seattle +3.5

Confidence: Low