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Plenty on the line for Seahawks, playoff contenders

Pete Carroll said referees called more offensive holding penalties in the past three weeks. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs are in a unique situation Sunday night.

Normally, playoff contenders this time of the year are scoreboard watching. Contenders playing Sunday afternoon have to look up at the scoreboard to see how other games are affecting their playoff chances. Because they are playing Sunday night, the Seahawks and Chiefs will know how other games affect their chances.

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The Seahawks have to track three teams that are battling them for the two wild-card spots. If the Washington Redskins lose to the Tennessee Titans, the Redskins would have their eighth loss, and that could knock them out of the wild-card fray. The same could happen to the Philadelphia Eagles if they can’t beat the Houston Texans.

Andy Reid and the Chiefs will be closely watching the Los Angeles Chargers game against the Baltimore Ravens. If the Chargers lose, the Chiefs can stay as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. If the Chargers win, the Chiefs could drop to the No. 5 seed if they lose to the Seahawks.

Still, plenty of drama is set for Sunday night regardless of what happens Saturday and Sunday prior to the game.

Seahawks’ secondary

The Seahawks secondary needs to tackle better and not make the penalties they had in the loss to the San Francisco 49ers. This has been an up-and-down stretch for the Seahawks young secondary. This assignment will be even tougher. Safety Tedric Thompson won’t play because of a shoulder injury. Bradley McDougald could miss the game because of knee.That means Delano Hill and Shalom Luani could be the starting safeties. Coming into the game, the Seahawks have the fourth worst numbers for yards after receptions. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Seahawks are allowing 6.28 yards after receptions.

Holding penalties

Because they have the Sunday night game, the Seahawks might have caught a break in regards to their recent problems with holding penalties. The Seahawks had 11 holding penalties in the first three weeks but 10 in the past three weeks. According to Pete Carroll, officials starting calling more offensive holding penalties in the past three weeks. Bill Vinovich is the referee in this game and he tends to get more prime time games than any other ref. Vinovich is good because he lets players play and his crew doesn’t overdo it throwing the flag.

This year, his crew has thrown 175 flags in 14 games, the second lowest in the league. His crew has called only 24 penalties, the lowest in the league. Compare that to Shawn Hochuli, who has thrown 72 flags for offensive holding.

Run the ball

The key for the Seahawks is to run the football, not fall behind by more than 10 points and to keep the Chiefs offense off the field. That’s what the Baltimore Ravens did two weeks ago when they had a 24-17 lead with four minutes left in what turned out to be an overtime win for the Chiefs. Keeping games close is what Russell Wilson does the best. If he can be with one score in the fourth quarter, he can pick up his game and get a game-winning drive. Getting D.J. Fluker back on the offensive line could be an important part of the game for the Seahawks.

Chiefs’ offense

The Chiefs offense is still dangerous but not as dangerous as it was a couple weeks ago. Kareem Hunt has been cut. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is out with a foot injury. Backup running back Spencer Ware is doubtful with a hamstring.That means the Chiefs go into the game with third-string running back Damien Williams. Losing Hunt takes big plays away from the backfield. Watkins was a dangerous, downfield threat. The Chiefs are still good with Chris Conley and Tyreek Hill at wide receiver and Travis Kelce at tight end.

In the past two weeks, the Chiefs have scored 27 and 28 points where before they were scoring 35 points and more. As many as seven points might have been taken away from the Chiefs with Hunt gone and Watkins sidelines.

Chiefs’ defense

Even though the Chiefs have three great pass-rushers — Justin Houston, Dee Ford, and Chris Jones — they are vulnerable on defense. They are giving up 27.1 points a game, fifth worst in the league. They have surrendered 1,777 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground, seventh worst in the league. Opposing quarterbacks have put up 3,955 yards passing, worst in the league.

It’s up to the Seahawks offense to take advantage of the Chiefs’ defense.

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John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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