What can we expect from Marshawn Lynch in his return?
A Titanic effort that may be the last one of his career. We all know the 29-year-old Lynch revels in doing things — including rehabbing on his own and spending just one of the last 42 days inside Seahawks’ headquarters during the crux of the team’s season — his own way. The Seahawks go along with it because of the results he’s brought as one of the NFL’s premier running backs. Lynch seems more likely than ever to walk away from the game after his return, expected Monday, for a playoff run. If he goes out his always-unusual way, it will be one memorable ride.
Could Lambeau Field be Seattle’s best place to begin the playoffs?
Companion query: What in the name of Vince Lombardi has happened to the Packers over the last month? Aaron Rodgers has become a middling quarterback because he’s surrounded by no running game, no receivers that can separate from themselves on the line of scrimmage let alone defenders and a diminished offensive line. After a home loss to Chicago, a miraculous, Hail-Mary win at Detroit on a Thursday night and a 30-point loss at Arizona last week, Green Bay suddenly looks the most vulnerable of the Seahawks’ three potential playoff foes. Sure, it is hard to get to. The team has to stay 45 minutes away in a tiny little town named after apples. And it would be cold. But Green Bay on Jan. 9 or 10 — which will happen if the Packers beat Minnesota Sunday and Seattle loses at Arizona — isn’t the Seahawks’ worst-case scenario anymore.
Which teams would the NFC playoff field rather avoid?
Before last week it was unbeaten Carolina and rampaging Seattle. Then the Panthers lost at Atlanta, and the Seahawks face-planted at home against St. Louis. Through it all, the Cardinals keep boat-racing everyone. The Seahawks are best suited to face run-first teams that don’t throw it deep (remember Minnesota and 18 yards from Adrian Peterson last month?). They are worst suited against Carson Palmer and Arizona’s daring, deep-strike-from-anywhere offense. Palmer ruthlessly chucks it long even when his receivers are covered, attacking what’s been Seattle’s weakness this season. And the Seahawks aren’t alone in that liability against the soaring Cards, even if Arizona ends up the second seed behind Carolina.
Nobody in Washington does, either. Kirk Cousins is the most popular man in D.C. — including the president, vice president and everyone running to succeed them right now. Coach Jay Gruden’s replacement for Griffin at quarterback is exquisitely leading the Redskins on a late-season surge to the NFC East title. He has 26 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 69.5-percent completion rate — the numbers of a franchise foundation man. With 3,990 yards passing he is 120 yards from breaking Jay Schroeder’s Washington season record from 1986. He’s so good right now Gruden is considering resting him Sunday to preserve him in the meaningless regular-season finale against Dallas; the Redskins have the No. 4 seed in the NFC locked up. Suddenly, a trip to Washington for the fifth seed is not the preferred way to begin the conference’s playoffs.
Who is New England’s biggest threat in the AFC?
Denver? I really can’t believe the Broncos would actually bench Peyton Manning for Brock Osweiler in the playoffs. They are disqualified from consideration by this blasphemy. Cincinnati? With A.J. McCarron having to be its quarterback? Uh … no. How about the Jets? Ryan Fitzpatrick over Tom Brady with the season on the line? Say whaaaat? It’s Kansas City. Not necessarily because of Alex Smith — even though the former 49ers bust has 18 TDs against just five interceptions. It’s because the rampaging Chiefs (10-5) have won nine in a row. Heck, they haven’t lost in nearly three months, since before their neighbors, the Royals, started the World Series. That was Oct. 18. I’m a big believer that the hottest teams entering the playoffs are the toughest ones to eliminate from them. Just ask the 2013 and ’14 Seahawks. Expect the Patriots to soon find that out.