A frequent criticism of today’s NFL is the lack of a true home-field advantage, a claim most likely made by people who have never seen a game in Seattle. CenturyLink Field often is cited as among the NFL’s best home-field advantages, and there are numbers to back it up.
Over the last 10 years, there have been 143 false-start penalties on visiting teams in Seattle, second-most of any home venue in the league (Minnesota has 145) and the most of any open-air stadium. Over the same time frame, the Seahawks have a +430 point differential at home and a -361 differential on the road. That 791-point variance between home and road point differentials is the second-biggest disparity of any team in the league (Baltimore, 833).
The stadium is going to be loud on Sunday, but there are plenty of distractions on the field for the Patriots to focus on. Here are three areas to watch for in Tom Brady’s first career start at Seattle:
1. The Seahawks feature a ferocious four-man pass rush that has recorded a sack once every 10.8 dropbacks, second best in the league. First-round draft pick Bruce Irvin (4.5 sacks) and veteran rusher Chris Clemons (5.5 sacks) are one of two sets of teammates with at least four sacks so far this season (Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson of the Bengals). Overall, Seahawks defensive linemen have accounted for 14.5 sacks this season, trailing only the Bears (16) among NFL defensive line groupings. One of the things that makes this unit special is its ability to impact plays even when they don’t sack the quarterback. Seahawks defensive linemen have defended 11 passes this season, three more than the next-closest team (Vikings). The five teams New England has faced this year (Titans, Cardinals, Ravens, Bills and Broncos) have combined for 12 passes defended by defensive linemen. This is a disruptive unit, and while the Patriots' offensive linemen has been competent in pass protection, they have not seen a defense like this.
2. The quarterback position is a question mark for the Seahawks. Russell Wilson, the rookie from Wisconsin, has thrown an interception once every 20.8 attempts. The only three quarterbacks in the league more likely than Wilson to throw an interception are Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tony Romo and Matt Cassel. Wilson has kept his throws short, with the fourth-lowest average throw distance (6.5 yards downfield) among 33 qualified quarterbacks this season. Since the well-publicized Monday night Hail Mary to Golden Tate that beat the Packers, Wilson has been a more effective quarterback overall but still needs to limit his mistakes. Wilson completed 72.0 percent of his passes in the last two weeks, third-best in the NFL over that span, but threw only one touchdown and five interceptions. If he can limit his turnovers, he can be an effective complement to Seattle’s potent rushing attack.
3. There just aren’t many backs in the league that run as hard as Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is the only running back in the NFL who has run for at least 85 yards in every game this season, and he gets his yards the hard way. Lynch has recorded an NFL-best 229 yards after contact this season, averaging an extra 2.0 yards after contact per rush (third-best out of the 27 backs with at least 50 rushes). Lynch’s effect isn’t just on the running game -- when defenses have focused on stopping Lynch, Wilson has been able to use play action effectively. Wilson has completed 73.5 percent of his play-action passes (fourth best in NFL), with both of Seattle’s 30-plus yard pass plays coming on play-action fakes.