Will one of these teams step up and look pretty on Sunday?
We'll see, and in the meantime, Giants reporter Dan Graziano and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount take a closer look at some of the key issues for both teams entering the game at CenturyLink Field.
Blount: Dan, that was hard to watch on Monday night, just a miserable performance at home. What is the team's mood now as they head across the country for the game against the Seahawks?
Graziano: The mood isn't good, Terry. Another loss and more proof that the Giants can't hang with the better teams in the league. They're 3-0 against Houston, Washington and Atlanta, and they're 0-5 against Detroit, Arizona, Philadelphia, Dallas and Indy. That's as clear as it gets, and it's a tough thing for the veterans on this team to swallow. They also suffered another brutal injury Monday, with very good starting cornerback Prince Amukamara now lost for the season due to a torn biceps. The Giants felt a month ago as though they were making good progress in their new offense, but without Victor Cruz (lost for the year in Week 6) and Rashad Jennings (missed the last three games with a knee injury, likely to miss this next one as well), the offense doesn't work quite as well. And the defense is giving up tons of big plays and about 400 yards a game. It's been a rough stretch for a team that felt good about itself when it was sitting at 3-2 after Week 5, and the mood reflects that.
They are frustrated and don't have a lot of answers, which would normally make a cross-country, short-week trip to play the defending champs in their daunting home stadium feel almost foolish to even take. But the Seahawks don't look like the dominating force they were in January (or in Week 1). What's the cause of the Super Bowl hangover out there?
Blount: Two things Dan: a rash of injuries to key players and the loss of experienced depth. Tight end Zach Miller has been out five games and center Max Unger has missed the last four, which has slowed down the offense. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and cornerback Byron Maxwell have been out three games, but the defense still has stepped up the last two weeks without them. And offensive tackle Russell Okung and strong safety Kam Chancellor (who didn't play last week) have been playing all season with injuries that have kept them from performing at their usual high level. Injuries played a bigger part in the problems because the Seahawks lost 11 players from last year who had 58 combined years of experience -- so they had to fill in with younger, inexperienced players. Those young guys are starting to come through now, but it took awhile.
Dan, the one bright spot for the Giants Monday night had to be rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who had eight catches for 156 yards. After starting the year with injury problems, is he starting to prove he can be the player they hoped he would be as a first-round pick?
Graziano: Terry, he looks great, and what's amazing is that he had no training camp at all. He injured his hamstring on the first day of camp and didn't practice again until Week 5. So he's basically getting by on talent right now and is likely to get better with more time and practice. The No. 12 overall pick in this year's draft, Beckham flashes great hands, great speed and has impressed as a route-runner. Yes, he had the hamstring problems that cost him the first four games, but no one here thinks he was dogging it. In fact, he sought out veteran running back Jennings for conditioning tips to help him ward off future problems, and he joins Jennings for his elaborate warm-up routine before games (Jennings calls it “pre-hab.”) The Giants have some young players on offense who have shown promise amid the inconsistencies this year, including tight end Larry Donnell and obviously Beckham. Those inconsistencies are to be expected, and they're likely to continue. Eli Manning has started 159 games in the NFL, while the five skill position players who started the game with him Monday have combined to start 31. This is a rebuilding team that's having growing pains, but Beckham's performance offers significant hope for the future.
When I looked at the Seahawks before the season started, I thought one potential weak spot was that offensive line. How has it held up, and what effect has the line's performance had on the year Russell Wilson is having?
Blount: Frankly, it's been a disaster. At one point last week, the Seahawks were playing the third-string center (Patrick Lewis) and backup left tackle (Alvin Bailey) and an undrafted rookie at left guard (Garry Gilliam) who had never played guard in his life. And that doesn't include the starting right tackle, rookie Justin Britt. When healthy, the O-line is a strong run-blocking unit, but it's never been very good on pass blocking. Wilson is under duress on 37 percent of his dropbacks, tied for the most in the NFL, but he's such an exceptional athlete that he's able to overcome it most of the time by scrambling and making things happen with his legs. The communication problems have caused way too many penalties on false starts. Unger is expected to return Sunday, which should go a long way toward stabilizing things up front, but it's been a struggle.
Dan, this is a game between the two oldest NFL coaches -- Tom Coughlin at 67 and Pete Carroll at 63. But Carroll looks like the fountain of youth, while the losses appear to be wearing on Coughlin. What are the odds that he returns if the team loses 10 or more games?
Graziano: I think 10 or more is the danger zone for Coughlin. Fundamentally, I think he's safer than people assume, given that they're about to miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. And as long as he keeps things in that semi-respectable 8-8 or even 7-9 range, I don't think it would be fair to fire him after the first year of such a major rebuild. But if this team bottoms out and finishes 4-12 or something like that, all bets are off. Last year's team was a total mess that started 0-6, and he still brought them back to finish 7-9. And while the next few weeks look brutal with games against Seattle, San Francisco and Dallas, the schedule turns for them after that with games against Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis. So 8-8 remains feasible, especially for a coach that always gets out of his teams at least what their talent level dictates, if not more. And if they finish there, while no one will be happy about it, they'll be able to say they saw progress in the first year of the offense, that the injuries killed them and that the young group should be better next year in its second year together. That's the way I see it playing out unless things really go south.
How's the schedule looking for the Seahawks the rest of the way, and what do you think their chances are of running down Arizona and defending the NFC West title at this point?
Blount: It won't be easy, and I would say the Cardinals are the favorite at this point. Seattle had the earliest bye weekend this year, which means they are in a stretch of 13 games over 12 weeks. The upcoming six-game stretch is brutal -- two against Arizona, two against the 49ers, at Kansas City and at Philadelphia. The Seahawks probably need to go at least 4-2 in that stretch, and likely will need to win both games against the Cardinals, to win the NFC West.