Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) throws against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans October 30, 2016. Photo by AJ Sisco/UPI | License Photo
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya.
SERIES HISTORY: 17th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 8-8. Seahawks won last regular season meeting, 24-23, in Seattle in 2012. Seahawks have not played in New England since 2004, a 30-20 Pats win. This is first meeting between the two teams since Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX 28-24 ikn a game highlighted by an infamous play-call by Seattle af the end of the game.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
There may be some irony in the fact that the Seahawks don't have a tough running game to ignore this time against the Patriots. In Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks eschewed the run on the one-yard line with RB Marshawn Lynch all beast-moded and ready to take the ball. This was in the final minutes with a go-ahead TD on the line.
Instead, the Seahawks decided to pass and the result was one of the most dramatic moments in SB history as undrafted rookie CB Malcolm Butler intervened on a slant pattern and intercepted the ball at the goal line.
Butler is now thought to be one of the best in the game and Lynch is in retirement and out of sight except for TV commercials and a joy ride around the Seahawks' home field in a golf cart with mom.
Now the Seahawks have an ineffectual run game and that will put pressure on the offensive line to protect QB Russell Wilson, who is slowly regaining his mobility after being slowed by a series of injuries.
The absence of Seahawks DE Michael Bennett (knee scope) is a plus for a Patriots line that struggled to keep pressure off QB Tom Brady in the three games leading up to the bye week. Bennett tormented Brady in Super Bowl XLIX, registering four QB hits.
The Seahawks are solid against both the run and the pass, fielding the No. 9 defense in terms of yards and the No. 3 unit in points allowed. But the Patriots offense is rolling with QB Tom Brady all re-inflated. New England should try to throw early and set up the LeGarrette Blount run game.
Of note, three Pro Bowl tight ends will be on the field Sunday night -- the Pats' Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett (Seattle DE Michael's brother) as well as the Seahawks' Jimmy Graham.
Patriots S Devin McCourty practices against the first two each day and will spend this week preparing for the last one. He explained the similarities among the three.
"When you combine all three of those guys, they're all very good at going vertical, getting down the field," McCourty said, before talking about Graham's two scores on Monday to help beat the Bills. "Their size is really what makes it really tough to cover all three of those guys because once they get vertical and it's any type of jump ball - you saw Monday night a ball that, for a corner, is just out of your reach."
The New England Patriots added another piece to an already dynamic offense by activating running back Dion Lewis from the physically unable to perform list on Saturday.
Lewis, who finished last season on injured reserve after suffering a torn ACL on Nov. 8 against the Washington Redskins, was placed on the PUP list after a setback that required another knee surgery in training camp.
Lewis ran for 234 yards on 49 attempts last season and had his biggest impact in the passing game as a third-down back, catching 36 passes for 388 yards and a pair of scores. Lewis will have to fight for that role from James White, who amassed 107 rushing yards and 258 passing yards through the first eight weeks this season.
"I think James White is a good player," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters on Friday. "What he does is good. Could somebody do it better? I don't know. But it would take quite a bit, I would say, based on where he is and how consistent he's been with what he's done. It would take somebody playing pretty good to be better than him."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Seattle's safeties and linebackers. Gronkowski hit the Patriots bye week healthy and producing like never before, leading the NFL with a 22.0 yards-per-catch average. He's the centerpiece of the deep New England passing attack, teams either forced to use multiple bodies to deal with the All-Pro to open things up for others or take their chances with Gronkowski in one-on-one battles that he so often wins. Kam Chancellor's health will be key as the Seahawks decide how to deal with Gronk. Both times New England managed to get Gronkowski matched up on LB K. J. Wright in one-on-one matchups in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks paid. He caught a 22-yard touchdown and a 13-yarder from Brady. Seattle will try to limit the chances Gronkowski will get in similar circumstances.
--Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse vs. Patriots CB Malcolm Butler. Kearse made an incredible juggling one-handed catch on the final drive of Super Bowl XLIX against Butler. Butler came back and intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line to preserve a victory for New England. The two will likely line up against each other frequently on Sunday night.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Seahawks WR Jermaine Kearse. A somewhat forgotten target in Seattle's passing attack, Kearse is capable of reminding that he is around. Alongside Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett, Kearse hasn't been a prominent a target this year. But with Graham playing back to All-Pro form and the Patriots known for focusing on taking away key weapons, Kearse may benefit. He has 24 catches for 281 yards and is still a trusted option by QB Russell Wilson.
INJURY REPORT: Seattle -- Out: DE Michael Bennett (knee), RB Thomas Rawls (fibula). Questionable: CB DeAndre Elliott (hamstring), RB Christine Michael (hamstring), T Bradley Sowell (knee), TE Luke Willson (knee). New England -- Questionable: TE Martellus Bennett (ankle), DT Alan Branch (back), WR Julian Edelman (foot), WR Chris Hogan (back).
Seahawks DE Cliff Avril has eight sacks in his past five games, including at least one in all five contests. He was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in October and leads the NFC with nine sacks.
The Patriots have not thrown an interception this season and can become the first team since the 1960 Cleveland Browns to have zero interceptions in a team's first nine games. They attempted 249 passes by three different quarterbacks Tom Brady (134), Jimmy Garoppolo (60), and rookie Jacoby Brissett (55).
The Seahawks have benefitted from interesting officiating calls and non-calls in three wins, most recently an infamous off-sides penalty against that should have been a personal foul, followed by more screw-ups by the officials that culminated with Buffalo missing a FG. Most the strange calls and non-calls involve physical CB Richard Sherman. Don't expect him to get the benefit of doubt in New England. The Patriots have more balance and it should decide this one.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 32-21.