With much at stake for both teams, the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Chargers will aim to extend their respective win streaks in an exciting Week 9 matchup at CenturyLink Field.
Rebounding from an 0-2 start, quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks have won four of their past five, including consecutive wins against the Raiders and Lions sandwiched around their bye week. A third straight win would move Seattle to 5-3 and further improve their chances at a wild card berth in the wide open NFC.
Safety Derwin James and Los Angeles also bounced back from a 1-2 start by winning their past four games and will travel to Seattle fresh off of their own bye. Though the Chiefs remain in front of the AFC West thanks to a scintillating 7-1 start led by quarterback Pat Mahomes, a huge road win in Seattle would keep the Chargers in the hunt for a division title.
Formerly AFC West rivals, the Seahawks and Chargers will be facing off for the first time in four years, though they have met consistently in preseason play. Back in 2014, the then-San Diego Chargers handed Seattle a season-opening 30-21 loss in the midst of an abnormal heat wave in southern California.
Much has changed for both franchises since that point, but with Wilson and Phillip Rivers still orchestrating the offense for each team, expect quite the chess match between two of the premier quarterbacks in football.
Aside from strong quarterback play, which three matchups will determine who snags a critical win on Sunday?
--Chargers quarterback Phillips Rivers vs. Seahawks secondary: The 36-year old Rivers has torched Seattle in the past, including a 284-yard, three touchdown performance the last time these two teams met in a regular season game back in 2014. Already with 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions this season, he has a boatload of quality receivers at his disposal, including sixth-year talent Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and 2017 first-round pick Mike Williams. Though he’s only found the end zone once so far, Allen remains the top target for Rivers and he’s still on pace for over 1,100 yards, making him a tough matchup for Seahawks cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers. Tyrell Williams has developed into one of the best vertical threats in football, averaging more than 22 yards per reception in the Chargers last three games and posting back-to-back 100-plus yard performances. Based on his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame alone, Mike Williams will also be a matchup nightmare and he’s coming off a game against the Titans where he hauled in a 55-yard touchdown reception. With the ability to beat defenses over the top with each of these three receivers, all eyes will be on free safety Tedric Thompson, who will be making his fourth start since Earl Thomas was lost for the season.
--Seahawks tackles Duane Brown and Germain Ifedi vs. Chargers DE Melvin Ingram: When Seattle and Los Angeles met in the second game of the preseason, Ingram dominated both Brown and Ifedi during the couple of series starters played for both teams in the first half. Though Ingram didn’t finish with any sacks in the game, he harassed Russell Wilson regularly, forcing Wilson to move the pocket and creating opportunities for other Chargers to hit him. That exhibition matchup feels like eons ago, however, and Seattle’s front line has improved dramatically since August thanks to great coaching from Mike Solari. Wilson has been sacked less than twice per game over the past five contests, but Ingram will remain a challenging matchup for both tackles due to his speed off the edge. Even without Joey Bosa across from him, Wilson considers him one of the best defensive ends in the league and Seattle has to stop him from wrecking the game as a pass rusher.
--Chargers running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler vs. Seahawks linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright: The Chargers were one-dimensional last season, as they ranked first in passing yardage but 24th in rushing yardage. As one of the catalysts for their 5-2 start, Ken Whisenhunt’s offense has found balance with Gordon and Ekeler both averaging over five yards per carry while also utilizing both players heavily in the passing game. Gordon missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury and will be questionable for Sunday, but if he plays, Rivers will look to get him the football frequently, as his 30 receptions rank second on the team behind Allen. Combined with Ekeler, the Chargers have thrown 33 percent of their passes to running backs, the second-highest percentage in the NFL behind only the Patriots. Wagner and Wright will have to keep a close eye on whichever player is in the backfield and account for these weapons in the passing game while the secondary deals with the Chargers talented receiving corps.