By Danny O’Neil
RENTON – Seattle plays its final road game of the regular season in the same spot it hopes to play its next road game: New York.
Well, New Jersey, actually, as the Seahawks conclude their road schedule against the Giants at Met Life Stadium, the site of this season’s Super Bowl.
Seattle’s ability to reach that ultimate destination doesn’t depend on the outcome of Sunday’s game – at least not technically – but this game against the Giants constitutes a pretty good check-up for the Seahawks’ postseason chances coming off last week’s loss in San Francisco.
“We need to be right,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Otherwise people will start worrying that something is wrong with these Seahawks, asking whether they peaked too soon or lack offensive punch or any of the other things that people will find to fret about a team that is two victories away from matching the franchise record for wins in a season.
To lose to the 49ers by two points in a hard-fought game in which Seattle was penalized nine times and had a punt blocked is one thing, but to lose on the road to a Giants team whose playoff hopes are null and void would be something else entirely.
A great deal has been spent this week analyzing the effort that can be expected from the Giants. Defensive lineman Justin Tuck talked about the professional obligation of putting forth a best effort. Running back Andre Brown said these final three games are a chance to put a resume together for the rest of the league.
But this game isn’t about the Giants. At all.
The outcome will be dictated by how well the Seahawks play.
The Giants are the worst team in the league when it comes to committing turnovers while the Seahawks are among the NFL’s best at forcing them. The Giants have the second fewest rushing yards in the NFC while the Seahawks have the third-most in the league.
“We’re starting to run the ball with commitment, which is good,” Carroll said.
That’s true in terms of volume, but not efficiency. Marshawn Lynch hasn’t rushed for more than 100 yards in any of his past three games, and he has averaged fewer than 3.5 yards per carry in two of them.
710 ESPN Seattle hosts weigh in on Seattle’s Week-15 matchup against the Giants, finishing the sentence, “The Seahawks will win if … ”
|• Michael Grey: Marshawn Lynch gets at least 22 carries.||• Jim Moore: Russell Wilson throws for 250 yards, Marshawn Lynch runs for 100 yards and the Giants commit two turnovers.||• Dave Wyman: The turnover ratio favors Seattle by more than one.||• Dave Grosby: They don’t commit five turnovers.||• Bob Stelton: They win the turnover battle, Marshawn Lynch rushes for more than 70 yards and Seattle limits the stupid penalties.||• Brock Huard: They outscore the Giants in the first quarter.||• Danny O’Neil: Russell Wilson isn’t picked off more than once.|
Two of his longest runs last week in San Francisco were nullified by penalties, though.
“I think we’re fine,” Carroll said. “I think we’re in good shape.”
Sunday will provide a good measurement of that conviction because Seattle left San Francisco last week disappointed to have lost, but not discouraged. There was no sense that the 19-17 defeat was the result of some fatal flaw in Seattle’s team or that it exposed an underlying weakness.
If Seattle bounces back, that result against the 49ers may not matter at all in the long run. If the Seahawks win any two of their final games, they’re guaranteed both the division title and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
A victory at New York would put Seattle on the brink of achieving both goals.
“Our guys, they’re prepared to respond really well,” Carroll said. “So I’ll be surprised if they don’t. It’s such a big opportunity that we should be right on it.”
Nothing changes. That was cornerback Richard Sherman’s message after the loss in San Francisco, and something he echoed this week. That defeat in San Francisco hasn’t altered either the trajectory of this season nor the way the Seahawks are preparing to play the Giants.
“That’s why you don’t lose very much,” Sherman said, “because it doesn’t change. The preparation doesn’t change. The team doesn’t change. The attitude or the approach doesn’t change.”
That’s true. As long as Seattle wins Sunday in New York. If the Seahawks don’t, then the questions will start, which makes this a game that is not necessarily a must-win, but one Seattle can’t really afford to lose.