2013 NFL Grades, Week 13: Road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

We're done here, right? The Seahawks didn't technically lock up homefield advantage on Monday night but they sure came close. Seattle throttled New Orleans at CenturyLink Field in prime time, sending the Saints home to lick their wounds as the prepare for the Panthers. Meanwhile the Seahawks travel to San Francisco for a divisional showdown against the 49ers but, at 11-1, they're all but locked into the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

The best anyone can do in the NFC now is 13-3. That means Seattle, who clinched a playoff spot on Monday, has to lose two of their last four games to even bring a tiebreaker into play. Two of their last four games are at home. That means, even though the games are against the Cardinals and Rams, that Seattle's taking the No. 1 seed.

That game goes off differently if it's in New Orleans, obviously. Drew Brees and the Saints offense is substantially more effective at home, in a dome. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks aren't as good away from home. Argue it all you want but he's never lost in Seattle so you'll lose.

It's also irrelevant to wonder how Brees will do at home against the Seahawks because he won't see them there now. Instead the road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle.

Some more observations from Monday night:

1) This seemed a lot like the Seahawks Week 16 win over the 49ers in 2012, when Seattle hammered San Francisco 42-13. The score wasn't just similar though: Russell Wilson ran a near-perfect and expanded offensive game, the Seahawks used the read option to devastating effect and the defense absolutely stifled a potent opposing offense. It was also rainy and there was rain gear and AGGRESSIVE PETE CARROLL GUM CHEWING:

Man, if only someone was enterprising enough to spiff up that GIF with a top hat, cane and monocle ...

That GIF is obviously from last year but it represents Pete Carroll's official SWAG level quite well.

2) So what should we take from this late-season dominance? It's worth looking at the Seahawks surge last season and wondering if they can pull it off this year too. After their Week 11 bye, Seattle caught absolute fire, averaging 35.7 points down the stretch. They lobbed up a pair of 50 burgers on the Cardinals and Bills before laying the prime time hammer on the 49ers. They appear to be trending similarly as well this year, throwing up 27, 33, 41 and 34 points respectively. That they "only" put up 34 points against the Saints on Monday is a testament to how well the defense played.

3) One of the things that stood out in terms of the offense was the early use of the read option. It threw the Saints off their defensive game and Wilson actually kept the ball to great success, causing Junior Gallette (who's been very good this season) to leave his jock on the field a few times. Really smart wrinkle from the Seahawks that got the Saints off balance early.

4) The Saints offense was ... not as good. They totaled 188 yards on the night, which is a low for a Drew Brees-Sean Payton team in New Orleans. A lot stands out here. They couldn't run the ball and when they tried, they weren't effective. Mark Ingram led the Saints with 22 rushing yards on eight carries.

5) Drew Brees had 3.89 yards per attempt. Oof. That's the lowest total for him since 2003 when he was with the Chargers. Russell Wilson had more rushing yards per attempt than Brees did passing yards per pop.

6) The way Seattle utilized Richard Sherman was really, really impressive. Stupendous defensive gameplan to have him shadow Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston at all the right times. The Seahawks were on fire defensively.

7) New Orleans was not. The Saints aggressiveness on defense played right into the Seahawks hand. Wilson is too cool and collected to be rattled. When Rob Ryan sent pressure at him, Wilson moved around, found space and made deep throws to wide open receivers all day long.

8) Even the ridiculous breaks went the Seahawks way. Derrick Coleman caught a touchdown pass that not only wasn't intended for him, but one that bounced off a teammate and into his hands, right by the pylon.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

TeamGradeAnalysis
Seahawks 34, Saints 7
FThey only got one shot at the top seed in the NFC and the Saints were completely overwhelmed on the road on Monday night. Drew Brees had his worst game in ages. The running game was non existent. And the defense, which had been resurgent, was overwhelmed by the Seahawks.
AWhat. A. Beatdown. The Seahawks pulverized the Saints in every facet of the game on Monday night. Russell Wilson was absolutely dominant and topped 10 yards per passing attempt and didn't make any mistakes.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Giants 21, Redskins 14
B-Andre Brown continues reinvigorating the running game in New York. Eli Manning can't stop making mistakes but he's making less of them? Probably too big a hole for New York in their division but the pass rush showed up and gave them a little hope.
C-Officially eliminated from the playoffs, the Redskins are now fighting not to give the Rams a top-five draft pick in the coming draft. Robert Griffin III looked a lot better on Sunday night but his receivers really, really let him down in a big way.
TeamGradeAnalysis
49ers 23, Rams 13
DZac Stacy ran alright when he got a chance, but the Rams were behind most of the game and Kellen Clemens was forced to attempt 37 passes. That never ends well.
B+Michael Crabtree's going to provide a big boost to the passing game, freeing up Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. Colin Kaepernick looked sharp on Sunday. Justin Smith and the defensive line mauled the Rams offensive line.
Falcons 34, Bills 31
B-Steven Jackson got going, Roddy White had a monster game, Matt Ryan didn't make any mistakes and the defense created some turnovers. Impressive effort given the state of the Falcons season, especially since it hurts them in the draft "standings."
C-The Bills were 7-0 when Toronto mayor Rob Ford was not in the game and you saw what happened when he showed up. They just made far too many mistakes late in the game and gave the Falcons too many opportunities. C.J. Spiller's big day went to waste.
Bengals 17, Chargers 10
BHuge road win for the Bengals for playoff purposes. They're now two games clear of the Ravens, although Andy Dalton and Co. weren't that impressive. An A.J. Green injury would be devastating. The defense did a really good job of limiting the Chargers at home though.
C-A game that should ultimately knock the Chargers out of the playoff hunt. Ryan Mathews couldn't get the ground game going and Philip Rivers was ineffective. Nice game for Keenan Allen but they couldn't take advantage of any big chances.
Broncos 35, Chiefs 28
B+Denver took care of business thanks to Peyton Manning hooking up with Eric Decker for four touchdowns in Arrowhead Stadium. Knowshon Moreno and Monte Ball were extremely effective. The defense has to be a concern considering Alex Smith lit them up.
B-Nice game for Alex Smith, who nearly threw for 300 yards and had a pair of scores. Jamaal Charles has been great all year and Sunday was no different. The defense is a major issue for the Chiefs though, and they've now lost three-straight games. Red flags abound.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Jaguars 32, Browns 28
BRemain really impressed that Gus Bradley keeps these guys competitive despite their season struggles. They're really developing some young talent like wideout Ace Sanders and defensive backs Jonathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz. Pretty big road win
DMonster outing for Josh Gordon, who became the first wideout to ever have back-to-back 200-plus yard receiving games in NFL history. But losing to the Jaguars at home? That's no bueno.
Patriots 34, Texans 31
C+Horrible first-half effort for the Pats again, but Tom Brady poured it on pretty good again after the break. It's crazy what a difference having Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski back makes.
C-Another week, another devastating loss. The Texans had New England on the ropes thanks to a big game from Ben Tate and they completely caved. At least they were competitive this time around.
Vikings 23, Bears 20
C-Wasted effort from Alshon Jeffrey, who broke his own Bears record for receiving yards in a single game on Sunday, topping 200 yards for the second time this season. What was Marc Trestman thinking when he kicked that field goal on second down? This defense is a disaster.
C+Adrian Peterson may not be 40 but he is a MAN. All Day topped 200 rushing yards for the fifth time in his career Sunday, walking the Vikings to a win. Blair Walsh made some clutch kicks as well in an ugly win.
Eagles 24, Cardinals 21
D+The Cardinals made a game out of this one, but the mistakes that haunted them early in the season -- particularly interceptions from Carson Palmer -- really showed up on Sunday. They couldn't take advantage of Philly's mistakes on offense.
C+Nick Foles nearly threw an interception but ran his streak of touchdown passes without one to start a season to 19. He's one shy of Peyton Manning's record.
Colts 22, Titans 14
D+Ryan Fitzpatrick ran the ball well but made too many mistakes -- three interceptions -- for the Titans to overcome. This game was a lot closer than it looked. The Titans have now lost six of their last eight games.
C+Trent Richardson was benched but it's not like Donald Brown was crazy effective with 14 carries for 54 yards. Andrew Luck continued to struggle without Reggie Wayne but got the job done.
Dolphins 23, Jets 3
BMiami made quick work of a bad Jets and did a really nice job overcoming a major weakness (their lack of an offensive line) against the Jets major strength (a strong defensive line). Facing off against a team that can't score always helps.
F-Brutal effort from the Jets who are in freefall right now. Geno Smith was benched for Matt Simms and the secondary got carved up by Brian Hartline and Ryan Tannehill. Rex Ryan's seat is cooking once again.
Panthers 27, Buccaneers 6
DTough game for the Bucs who lost their three-game losing streak Sunday. Bobby Rainey ran alright and Mike Glennon did some nice things, but Tampa had too many things not bounce their way to be competitive in this game. It was never really that close.
B+Cam Newton and Carolina keep rolling, winning a franchise-record eight games thanks to their beatdown of the Bucs Sunday. Ted Ginn's become a somewhat reliable weapon and the defense keeps surprising, succeeding without Charles Johnson in the lineup.
TeamGradeAnalysis
Lions 40, Packers 10
DThe Packers forced four Lions turnovers, and that was the only good thing they did all day. Green Bay's defense was brutal, and the Packers offense was even worse. Where oh where is Aaron Rodgers?
BAs dominant as the Lions were, their ease in giving up turnovers has to be worrisome moving forward. But Detroit's defense destroyed any hope Green Bay might have had, and the Lions made the Packers look like one of the worst teams in the league.
Cowboys 31, Raiders 24
C+If this grade were for the first half only, the Raiders would be getting an A. Oakland jumped out to a 21-7 first half lead thanks to two touchdowns from Rashad Jennings. Unfortunately for Oakland, everything fell apart after that.
BThe Cowboys weren't spectacular, as matter of fact, they almost looked bored to be on the field for the first two quarters. However, everything changed after Tony Romo led a 73-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half.
Ravens 22, Steelers 20
BJoe Flacco had a strong Thanksgiving game and utilized his deep-ball targets. The running game still really struggled. The Ravens got bailed out a bit at the end but came away with a win. They could be the team that doesn't really look all that good to sneak into the wild-card race or even the AFC North hunt. Sound familiar?
C+Injuries and major mistakes ultimately cost the Steelers. This game may have wrapped up their season. Le'Veon Bell being hurt would be devastating since he rejuvenated that running game. Ben Roethlisberger's had a better season than he'll get credit for. The defense simply couldn't stop the Ravens enough.
 
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