The Seahawks won their costliest game in recent memory to remain in good position for the playoff race. But how will they fare without Richard Sherman in a wide-open NFC?
The NFC playoff picture is extremely complicated after Week 10, with the Seahawks currently clinging to the sixth and final postseason spot at 6-3 with seven games to play. They are one of only three teams in the NFL with a perfect divisional record halfway through their divisional schedule, following a disastrous road win over the Cardinals on Thursday Night Football last week.
Since the Seahawks already own a tiebreaker over the Rams and trail 7-2 LA in the NFC West by one game, there’s a chance Seattle could still overtake them for the divisional crown. The Rams also have a difficult schedule in the second half. Besides playing everyone in their division once more, Sean McVay’s team has to play the 7-2 Vikings this week on the road with the 7-2 Saints and the 8-1 Eagles both coming to the Coliseum, and a Christmas Eve battle in Nashville against the Titans thrown in later in the season.
But the Seahawks are awash in uncertainty now. First, let’s round up the many injuries from Seattle’s 22-16 win over Arizona last week:
The Walking Wounded
First, we know that Richard Sherman is out for the year with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Sherman is only tendered through 2018, when his big extension runs out. Trade rumors swirled this offseason, and if John Schneider is serious about trying to move on from the All-Pro cornerback, this offseason would be the time to do it, although Sherman’s recovery from surgery complicates matters in a trade scenario. They can also release him without getting stung too badly in dead money against the cap.
Earl Thomas, who sat out the last two games with a hamstring injury, appears to be ready to play Monday Night against the Atlanta Falcons. But his fellow safety Kam Chancellor is up in the air after suffering a neck stinger at the very end of the Cardinals game. Pete Carroll provided no insight into Chancellor’s probability of starting Monday Night’s game in his interview with 710 ESPN yesterday.
Left tackle Duane Brown twisted his ankle last Thursday and remains questionable to play against Atlanta as well. If Brown can’t go, the Seahawks will likely turn to Luke Joeckel, if he can return from arthroscopic knee surgery himself. Carroll admitted in his 710 interview, “we’re in flux.”
With Sherman out for the season, the Seahawks re-signed original LOB member Byron Maxwell this week. Maxwell started two games for the Dolphins this year and has intercepted four passes since he left Seattle in 2014. But he’s still only 29 and could experience a renaissance of sorts when he reunites with Carroll the cornerback whisperer.
Another name that has been floated to help the Seahawks suddenly beleaguered secondary is DeShawn Shead, who was on the Physically Unable to Perform list all season while recovering from a torn MCL and ACL in last year’s Divisional Round loss to the very same Falcons who will visit CenturyLink on Monday. But Carroll suggested that Shead won’t be ready after all.
How Will This Play Out?
Your guess is as good as mine. I have some optimism, of course, for the rest of the season. Sure, losing Sherman is a big blow to the defense, but it’s not as bad as losing Thomas like last year’s team. Sherman brings excellent blanket coverage, forces turnovers, and forces offensive coordinators to shift their game plans, but, as we saw last season, without Thomas, the Seahawks defense is a shell of its former self.
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Thomas is healthy and ready to return, barring a bizarre setback or a surprise on Monday Night. Rookie Shaquill Griffin has been steadily improving every week at cornerback, and the Seahawks at least have bodies backing him him up with Jeremy Lane (who can’t possibly be that bad all season, right?) and now Maxwell.
Brown could miss Monday’s game, which would pose a problem with the red-hot Atlanta pass-rush coming to town, but he didn’t appear seriously injured. He’ll have to anchor an offensive line for the rest of the season. People think that Russell Wilson handling this much of the offense is unsustainable, but there are worse offensive situations to be in than letting Wilson carry the team.
The Seahawks have games against the Eagles, Cowboys, and Jaguars remaining after their home date with Atlanta, so their schedule isn’t particularly easy, either. I could see both the Rams and the Seahawks faltering at times the rest of the way, setting up a showdown at the Clink for the NFC West division crown in Week 15.
Predicting this season has been especially difficult with all the injury chaos. Carroll’s crew will be tested for depth and season-finishing ability yet again in 2017.