After picking up a tremendously important victory over long-time rival Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos last Sunday, the New England Patriots head west to Seattle for a Sunday afternoon showdown with the talented Seahawks.
Here are five of the most important things to watch for on Sunday afternoon.
1) Can New England contain Marshawn Lynch?
Through the first five weeks of the 2012 NFL season, only one man has been able to outrush Seahawks' pro-bowl running back Marshawn Lynch. That man would be Kansas City's Jamaal Charles. On 113 carries, the former Buffalo Bill has rushed for 508 yards and a pair of touchdowns while only once fumbling the football. Lynch is one of those rare hybrid backs with the power to steamroll even the toughest of linebackers while also possessing the type of breakaway speed necessary for creating big plays in the ground game. The Patriots have been solid against the run this season, tying for tenth in the NFL - with the Detroit Lions - in yards allowed with 411. While it'd be hard to argue against the merits and all-around skill-set of Ravens' superstar tailback Ray Rice, Lynch will be undoubtedly the most powerful back that the Patriots have faced this season. It will be a huge test of mettle for New England's young front seven.
2) Will the Patriots be able to run on the Seattle's stout front seven?
Speaking of front sevens, the Seahawks boast one of the league's youngest and most talented groups of defensive linemen, though mostly made up of guys that aren't exactly household names across the country. Big behemoth Red Bryant, rookie Bruce Irvin and pass-rush specialist Chris Clemons will give the Patriots' offensive line all they can handle this Sunday. Young Nate Solder and veterans Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer must be on top of their game in order to keep Tom Brady upright this weekend.
3) Will Wes Welker remain an integral part of the Patriots' offense?
After a noticeable drop off in both targets and receptions during the first quarter of the season, Wes Welker was without a doubt the star of the show during the Patriots' 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos last Sunday. His thirteen catches for 104 yards and one touchdown were the largest and most part of the Patriots offensive attack, often coming through in big spots when his team needed it the most. The most obvious of which coming on his third down reception on New England's final drive of the fourth quarter that sealed the victory and allowed them to empty the game clock to triple zeros. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots utilize No. 83 in the same way against Seattle or once again go in a different direction with another player receiving the bulk of Tom Brady's attention.
4) How will the Patriots' receivers fare against a physical Seahawks' secondary?
Like their front seven, the Seattle secondary probably doesn't feature many names that you know a whole lot about. Despite this, the Seahawks have been able to keep opposing quarterbacks to less than 200 yards through the air so far this season, good for eighth in the NFL against the pass. What makes Seattle's secondary unit just a little different than others is its overwhelming physicality. Number one cornerback Brandon Browner stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs almost 225 pounds. Opposite Browner is 6-foot-3 corner Richard Sherman. Strong safety Kam Chancellor is 6-foot-3, 232 pounds. Not your typical set of defensive backs, that's for sure. The size and athleticism of Seattle's secondary will pose an interesting challenge for what is mostly considered to be an undersized New England offense, Rob Gronkowski notwithstanding.
5) Will the crowd noise affect Tom Brady and the offense?
Seattle's CenturyLink Field has been known as one of the NFL's loudest and rowdiest stadiums for the past handful of seasons. The decibel level in the stadium is absolutely something to behold, and you will most certainly be surprised on Sunday if you've never seen a Seahawks' home game on television before. The crowd noise was enough to disrupt Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' juggernaut of an offense a few weeks back during a controversial Monday night contest in which the Seahawks held Green Bay to just 12 points, while amassing a whopping total of eight first-half sacks. Communication between Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady and his young offensive line will be paramount to New England's potential success this Sunday in Seattle.
Prediction: New England gets the job done in Seattle, winning 27-14.
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