By Dave Thomas
With the bye week in the rear-view mirror, the Seattle Seahawks will be using the old cliche of “one game at a time” as the second half of the season kicks off. Getting a visit from the first-place NFC West Arizona Cardinals on Sunday evening, Seattle looks to move a step closer to catching their rivals. While Arizona (6-2) has been flying high for the most part this season, Seattle (4-4) had to fight its way back into contention after a surprisingly sluggish start to the season.
So, what do the Seahawks need to do over the second half of the season to get themselves in position to not only win the NFC West and the NFC Championship, but also make a run towards a second Super Bowl title come February in the Bay Area?
Division Games Even More Important
Having only played two division games in the first half of the season (lost at St. Louis, won at San Francisco), Seattle has a golden opportunity to make up ground and perhaps even take over control of the NFC West through the next eight games. With two games remaining with Carson Palmer and Arizona, along with one each against St. Louis and San Francisco (both at home), the Seahawks can make themselves the front-runner in the division. As it stands, a long winning streak could put the Seahawks in great shape as they close out the regular season Jan. 3 in Glendale versus the Cardinals.
If Seattle is to make such a winning streak happen, staying healthy down the stretch will certainly be key. Starting running back Marshawn Lynch, who has battled hamstring and calf injuries through the first eight games of the season, will need to be in prime shape the second half of the season, taking some pressure off of quarterback Russell Wilson. If the Seahawks can continue to get strong efforts from team-leading rusher Thomas Rawls, that one-two punch with Lynch could make all the difference in the world.
On the defensive side of the ball, Seattle has played some of its best ball of the season in its last two games. With both games on the road, the Seahawks were impressive in holding San Francisco and Colin Kaepernick to a mere three points in a 20-3 victory, while the defensive effort was equally key in a 13-12 win at Dallas.
So, what can you expect these final eight games of the regular season? Seattle will need to take advantage of having the next three games at home, two of which are against potential playoff teams (Arizona, Pittsburgh).
Avoid Key Injuries Down The Stretch
From there, the Seahawks will need to keep regulars like Lynch, Rawls, Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor and K.J. Wright healthy, allowing them to put the best 11 players on the field on each down. Guys such as tight end Luke Willson (probable for this Sunday following a toe injury) can also do his part to take away some of the coverage on starter Jimmy Graham. To date, Willson has nine catches (125 yards receiving) and one touchdown.
Buckle up; the Seahawks should have a wild ride these last eight games of the regular season.
Russell Okung, tackle (toe/ankle)
Luke Willson, tight end (toe)
Michael Bennett (NIR)
Marshawn Lynch (abdominal)
Ricardo Lockette, wide receiver (neck)
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.