Browns-Seahawks Preview

Little came easy for the Seattle Seahawks during a 4-5 start that had many questioning if the two-time defending NFC champions had finally lost their resolve.

That apparently didn't sit well with Russell Wilson, who is on a historic tear despite injuries continuing to deplete Seattle's offensive depth.

The Seahawks are in firm control of their playoff fate and on the verge of winning five straight as they prepare to host a Cleveland Browns team entering Sunday's matchup with a nothing-to-lose attitude.

Six of Seattle's first nine games were decided by seven points or fewer, including two overtime defeats. Its only wins in that stretch were against Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and Dallas - none of which currently has more than five victories.

Marshawn Lynch hasn't played since that span ended with a loss to first-place Arizona on Nov. 15 and had abdominal surgery. Through those nine games, Wilson completed 65.8 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions while being sacked 33 times.

Then, everything suddenly changed. The Seahawks (8-5) have won four straight, including the last two on the road against Minnesota and Baltimore by a combined 73-13 score. Both victories came after Jimmy Graham was lost for the season with a torn right patellar tendon suffered in a win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 29.

Wilson has become the first quarterback since at least 1960 to have a passer rating of 138.5 or better in four consecutive games, completing 75.4 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns, zero picks and a 145.9 rating. He's thrown a career-best five TD passes twice during that run after hitting Doug Baldwin for three and Tyler Lockett for two in last week's 35-6 rout of the Ravens.

Now a win or tie against the Browns (3-10) plus plenty of other help could secure the Seahawks' playoff berth this week. Not bad for a team that wasn't looking much like a postseason team early on.

''When everything starts functioning right, it can just go,'' coach Pete Carroll said. ''There's been a lot of years where we've had really good finishes and score a lot of points and put up a lot of numbers, and this is like that.''

Undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls was contributing to that success, averaging 5.6 yards per carry in the first three during the winning streak, including a 209-yard effort against the 49ers on Nov. 22.

Rawls, though, was lost for the season after breaking his ankle and suffering ligament damage against Baltimore. That leaves veteran Fred Jackson and the newly signed Bryce Brown to split duties in the backfield moving forward.

''Our commitment is going to stay the same because we have a balance that we really play with. We have a philosophy and an approach that doesn't need to be changed right now,'' Carroll said.

''If we were having issues and troubles then maybe something would happen. The whole idea of being a balanced attack is when you need it you can go to it and if we need to throw the football more, we will. If we need to run the football more, we will.''

That game plan appears a bit more structured compared to Cleveland's after coach Mike Pettine said he plans to "cut it loose" on Sunday. The Browns are fresh off snapping a seven-game skid with last week's 24-10 win over San Francisco in Johnny Manziel's return under center.

"Why not? We're coming off a win, we did some good things and we're hoping to build on that," Pettine said. "We know the challenge that exists and, we'll have a ton of respect for Seattle and what they're doing and where they are."

Manziel was benched for the previous two games after causing another distraction by partying during the bye week and then attempting to lie about it. Pettine gave him another chance, though, and he responded by throwing for 270 yards and a touchdown.

He made only one mistake, tossing an interception near the end of the first half that prompted Manziel to slam his tablet repeatedly against his forehead.

''I definitely think he is starting to see it,'' said tight end Gary Barnidge, who caught his eighth TD pass last week. ''I think it has shown in the way he is playing on the field, in practice and in the game. He is going to keep learning and keep maturing. We are going to be behind him no matter what, too.''

Manziel may not have to worry about Kam Chancellor after the safety missed Seahawks practice Wednesday with a tailbone injury.

The Browns also are becoming more confident in a ground game that ranks 26th in the league with 3.67 yards per rush. They set a season high with 230 yards against the 49ers - they hadn't hit 100 in any of their previous six - with second-year back Isaiah Crowell gaining 145 and scoring twice.

Seattle, though, has held opponents to a total of 176 rushing yards during its winning streak.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.