NFL Preview - Seattle (11-2) at NY Giants (5-8)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Seattle Seahawks hope the road to the Super Bowl runs through CenturyLink Field, but they have to stay just as dominant on the road and will visit the New York Giants Sunday at the home of Super Bowl XLVIII, MetLife Stadium.
The playoff-bound Seahawks will play their final road game of the regular season at the Meadowlands and had a chance to sew up an NFC West crown on Sunday at San Francisco. However, the division-rival 49ers spoiled those chances with a 19-17 victory and snapped Seattle's seven-game win streak.
Seattle needs a win against the Giants and a 49ers loss in Tampa Bay in order to capture its second NFC West crown in the last four years and a first-round bye. The Seahawks hadn't lost since Oct. 6 at Indianapolis and fell to 5-2 away from the Emerald City, where they are 6-0 this season.
The Seahawks hold the best record in the NFC and have a one-game lead over New Orleans, along with the head-to-head tiebreaker, in the race for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. They can clinch home-field advantage with a win plus losses by the 49ers and Saints.
Seattle is hoping to claim its franchise-record sixth road victory in a season and delivered a 34-7 beating of the Saints prior to last weekend.
In the tough loss at San Francisco, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson completed 15-of-25 passes for 199 yards with a touchdown and interception, while Marshawn Lynch ran for 72 yards and a score on 20 carries. Seattle amassed a total of 264 yards on offense, went 5-for-12 on third down and had the ball about five minutes less than the 49ers.
Seattle played well on defense save stopping the run. San Francisco running back Frank Gore rumbled for 110 yards on 17 carries to keep the Seahawks from clinching a division title on enemy turf. Gore's 51-yard run set up Phil Dawson's fourth field goal of the game, a 22-yarder with 26 seconds left that lifted the 49ers to victory.
"We would've loved to come out on top. We had our chance and we let the opportunity get away," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said on Monday.
"So we crank it up. It's really important, as we have throughout regardless of what the game is before, you have to handle it properly and put it in the right perspective and move forward effectively."
After Carroll's team visits the Giants, it will return to the Pacific Northwest for matchups with Arizona and St. Louis.
New York will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, with its fourth Super Bowl title buried in that stretch. Missing out on the postseason became a reality in Sunday's 37-14 loss at San Diego and the Giants lost for the second time in three weeks since winning four straight after an 0-6 start.
The Giants are now left to play for pride and roster spots, and head coach Tom Coughlin can only hope his seat doesn't start to burn.
"As I have said many, many times in the past, we have to deal with reality," Coughlin said. "The truth of the matter is we have to apply ourselves, and hope that we can. I have used the word respect, and we can gain and earn some of the respect back by virtue of how we play in these last three games, and that's all we can possibly think about right now."
Perhaps the biggest reason for New York's struggles this season was its offense. The Giants have turned the ball over an NFL-high 34 times and quarterback Eli Manning has been intercepted 20 times with three games left. He has been picked off at least 20 times in three separate seasons during his career and was intercepted twice against the Chargers. He threw 25 interceptions in 2010.
Manning passed for 259 yards and a touchdown, and was sacked twice. He has been sacked 32 times, the most in his career.
"It's been tough. Obviously today we got down and you try to compete and make some things happen but I haven't analyzed the whole season but you just try to go game by game and try to make adjustments to get better," Manning said Sunday. "After the season we'll look at it and try to figure that part out but we still have three games to go to try to make some adjustments and get better."
Giants running back Andre Brown has been one of the few bright spots for the Giants' offense and has rushed for 424 yards and three scores in just five games this season. He had 81 yards on 16 carries in San Diego.
Wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks have combined for four touchdowns this season, all by Cruz. Cruz is 27 yards away for 1,000 this season and had 42 yards on five receptions Sunday. Nicks led the way with 135 yards on five catches, but is still searching for that elusive first TD of the year.
Cruz talked about being out of the playoffs with three games left.
"It's unusual, but just like any other season you have to continue to play, continue to keep a positive mindset and continue to just play football," Cruz said. "Enjoy these moments that you have and enjoy being out there on the field, because you never know what could happen. You just want to go out there and enjoy this time and continue to play some good football."
The Giants are 9-6 all-time against the Seahawks, who won the previous matchup between the teams, 36-25, on Oct. 9, 2011 at the Meadowlands. The Giants are 6-2 all-time at home against Seattle. Coughlin is 3-6 against Seattle in his career, including 1-3 while at the helm of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-2002. Coughlin is 2-2 in head-to-head bouts with Carroll.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Seahawks need to continue New York's misery and become Buccaneer fans in the process in order to clinch the NFC West. And that will happen as long as Wilson protects the football and Lynch continues to carry the load on the ground.
Lynch has five 1,000-yard seasons in his career. The Seahawks are third in rushing yards per game (141.5) and points per game (27.5). Lynch is fifth with 1,042 rushing yards and sixth with 80.2 ypg. New York is allowing 105.4 rushing yards a game and allowed 103 yards on 29 carries to Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. San Diego had 144 yards on the ground, the second-highest total by a Giants opponent this season; Carolina ran for 194 yards.
San Diego also converted 10-of-15 third-down opportunities.
Giants linebacker/defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka talked about facing the mighty Seahawks this weekend and what it does to the team's outlook.
"I think it helps us. I think it helps us from an individual standpoint because you get a good team coming in," Kiwanuka said. "You get to see what you can do against what is touted as one of the best teams in the league right now. It helps us as a team because we get an opportunity as a team to go out there and play against the best and to kind of redeem ourselves a little bit from last week. That's where our focus is. We're going to go out there every single week and fight for that win. This is a great opportunity to get one."
While the likelihood of winning is slim, the Giants won't back down and a win Sunday can only make the transition into next season that much better.
"Yeah. Obviously it would put a smile on our faces and understand that this is something that we could have done all year with doing the right things," Cruz said of possibly knocking off Seattle. "If we beat that team, it would kind of make it more disappointing because we didn't take advantage of playing like this all year long, from an entire team perspective. Obviously it would just put a smile on our face and have us know that when we play at our best, we can beat any team in the league."
It's all about opportunity for a Seahawks group just a few wins away from homefield advantage. But first the Seahawks have to put Sunday's loss at San Francisco on the back burner.
"All our goals are still in front of us," Wilson said. "It was a disappointing loss, but at the same time the best thing about football is you get another opportunity. Our biggest goal is to stay focused on the next opportunity."
Wilson has to watch out for Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, who has 8 1/2 sacks this season and seven in the past three games. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul hasn't played since Nov. 24 because of a shoulder injury and could miss another game Sunday.
The Giants have to win out to avoid their first losing season since 2004 (6-10), the first under Coughlin. Unfortunately for New York, finishing with a .500 record won't happen this season because the Seahawks are better and still have lofty goals to attain.
It won't be a breeze for the visiting Seahawks on Sunday, but they'll do enough to stay in contention for homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 30, Giants 17
12/12 14:03:41 ET