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3 Seahawks Questions: Will Wilson have an MVP performance against Jets?

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has a great opportunity to shine against the Jets. (Getty)

The Seattle Seahawks’ hopes of an NFC West crown are slipping away after the Rams’ win over the Patriots, but it’s still within their grasp with a Week 16 win over their divisional foe. That road to the playoffs also involves winning out the rest of the season, which makes a win over the visiting New York Jets all the more important.

Clayton: Expect more rushing from Seahawks’ offense against Jets

It’s a game Seattle should win. But where do their strengths and weaknesses line up? Here are three questions heading into this week’s must-win contest:

Will Russell Wilson have an MVP performance?

The MVP race has already passed Wilson by – with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes commanding much of the attention there now – but that doesn’t mean a resurgence of his MVP campaign isn’t still valuable for this offense. It may not garner an award, but that kind of performance can boost a stumbling team, which is what Seattle looked like against the New York Giants last week.

He’ll have a prime opportunity against the Jets, who have allowed 291 yards on average to opposing passers, trailing only the Seahawks. The Jets’ defense has allowed eight of their 12 opponents to score 30 or more points and have allowed the highest average completion percentage (70.5%) to opposing passers.

They’re also dealing with several injuries. Starting safety Ashtyn Davis, who could land on the injured reserve, is out with a foot injury. Fellow safety Bennett Jackson (hamstring) is also out. With former Seahawk Bradley McDougald on the injured reserve, that leaves New York with starter Marcus Maye and backup Matthias Farley as the only two healthy safeties. (They did recently add J.T. Hassell from the Patriots’ practice squad for depth.) Starting strongside linebacker Jordan Jenkins is also out.

Heads up to Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf owners in fantasy: The game plan to target downfield may not have worked against the Giants, but the Seahawks may try to take a few deep shots against the Jets, who have allowed the fifth-most completions of 20+ yards (43) and third-most completions of 40-plus yards (eight).

Wilson’s resilient track record certainly helps; he has a 33-9 record following an in-season loss.

Will the defense put together four quarters?

The defense still ranks 31st in yards surrendered per game but it’s hard to overstate just how impressive their improvements have been in the last few weeks. That said, they have yet to put together a complete game (more on that in a minute).

The Hawks have recorded 24 sacks since Week 8 and rank 7th in sacks this year with 33. That’s already five more sacks than they had in all of 2019 in four fewer games. Carlos Dunlap has been a big part of that turnaround, but putting a complete game together isn’t going to be easy without him: Pete Carroll told reporters Friday afternoon that Dunlap (foot) will be a game-time decision.

Their best defensive performances of the season have come in the last few weeks, but they’ve yet to play that way through four quarters. They stumbled in the final 15 minutes after three strong quarters against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8 and struggled against the run in the third quarter of last week’s game against the Giants.

Still, they’re paired up well with a struggling Jets offense. A really struggling offense. Two Jets quarterbacks (Sam Darnold and Joe Flacco) have combined for 11 passing touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The team ranks 31st in yards per pass attempt and total passing yards, and the Jets’ offensive line (which will be without starting right guard Greg Van Roten) has allowed the fifth-most sacks.

The Seahawks defense struggled on third down in particular over the first half of the season, but that matchup favors them as well: the Jets are 31st in third down conversions (32.89%).

It’s worth noting the Jets are coming off one of their best games of the year with the best performance this season from Sam Darnold (14-of-23, 186 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT). Shutting down any momentum for this team early – whether it be through third-down stops or takeaways – is a key to a win for the Seahawks’ defense.

Will the offense get a boost with the return of Brandon Shell?

Shell is expected to play Sunday. That’s the latest update from Pete Carroll during his Friday interview with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Dave Wyman as part of KIRO Radio’s The Pete Carroll Show.

“Everything looked pretty good,” Carroll said. “He had a good solid week. That’s a really good return for us.”

The Seahawks ran into trouble on the offensive line last Sunday when they were down to their fourth string right tackle. Getting Shell back doesn’t solve all of Seattle’s problems on offense – they’ve still allowed plenty of pressures this season – but it should certainly be a boost. According to Pro Football Focus, Shell has allowed three sacks this year and has a grade of 72.1.

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Seahawks Injuries: RT Shell is back, DE Dunlap a game-time decision