1) Seahawks at Saints – Sunday 10 a.m.
If the Seahawks offense can’t improve on their six-point performance from last Sunday when it meets the Saints this weekend, they have some big problems.
The Saints give up more points per game than any team in the league (32.5). They have, statistically, the third-worst passing defense and fourth-worst total defense in the NFL.
We learned this week Russell Wilson is now nursing a pectoral injury in addition to his bum left knee and right ankle. The Seahawks signed fullback Will Tukuafu to bolster the run game. Many fans have said for weeks the Seahawks should rest Wilson and play rookie Trevone Boykin behind the least-expensive offensive line in the NFL. If there is any week for them to consider doing that, this would be it. But don’t hold your breath.
Seattle’s defense will be tested again because the Saints have the No. 1 passing offense, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, and No. 2 overall offense. And Seattle will miss two big pieces. Defensive end Michael Bennett and safety Kam Chancellor have both been ruled out due to injury.
Photos: Seahawks vs. Cardinals
2) Washington (No. 4) at Utah (No. 17) – Saturday 12:30 p.m.
Washington (4-0 in Pac-12, 7-0 overall) is on track to reach the national semifinals as long as they keep winning. This appears to be the toughest remaining matchup on the docket for the Huskies until the Apple Cup and could be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Huskies quarterback Jake Browning is the highest-rated passer in the nation and is a Heisman Trophy candidate. He has 26 touchdowns, and he takes care of the ball – only two interceptions in seven games.
The Huskies’ defense would make any Seahawks fan proud. They are allowing just 14.6 points per game, good for 6th in the nation. They are tied for 5th in sacks and lead the nation in fumble recoveries.
The Utes (4-1 in Pac-12, 7-1 overall) are no slacks on defense. They are tied for 2nd in the nation with 14 interceptions and have eight fumble recoveries.
Utah also has one of the best individual stories in football this season. Running back Joe Williams retired early in the year citing mental and physical fatigue. But after a slew of injuries for the Utes in the following weeks, the coaches reached out to him, and Williams agreed to give it another go. All he’s done is rush for 179 yards at Oregon State and 332 yards and four touchdowns at UCLA.
3) Washington State at Oregon State – Saturday 7:45 p.m.
The Cougars (4-0 in Pac-12, 5-2 overall) are just on the outside of both Top 25 polls heading into this week. A win over the Beavers (1-3 in Pac-12, 2-5 overall) would surely move them into the rankings.
Head coach Mike Leach has embraced the run much more than in years past, giving the Cougars a more balanced offense. But quarterback Luke Falk is still among the top 10 in the nation in passing yardage – so Leach hasn’t gone that far from his Air Raid roots.
The Cougars’ rushing defense is ranked 14th in the nation. But that’s partly because teams can pass against them. WSU is ranked 102nd in the nation in yards allowed per game through the air.
But Oregon is atrocious against the run – giving up 231 yards per game on the ground. And the defense gives up 32 points per game.
Common wisdom would call for Leach to run the ball even more, but don’t expect it. Leach is aggressive – that’s his style.
If the Cougars can rattle off wins in their next three games (at Oregon State, vs. Arizona, vs. California), it almost assuredly will set up the Apple Cup as the game which will decide the Pac-12 North title.
4) Cardinals at Panthers – Sunday 10 a.m.
Last week’s tie with the Seahawks was more of a loss for the Cardinals (3-3-1). They couldn’t gain any ground on Seattle on their home turf. A Seahawks win this Sunday coupled with a loss to the Panthers would almost put the nail in the coffin as far as their hopes to win the NFC West.
The defending NFC Champion Panthers (1-5) desperately need to win or kiss their season goodbye before the season even reaches its halfway point. Quarterback Cam Newton is back after sitting out the last game with a concussion.
5) Eagles at Cowboys – Sunday 5:30 p.m.
The Cowboys (5-1) are one of the two teams Seattle is looking up at in the race for home field advantage. The Eagles (4-2) could move into a tie with Dallas for the NFC East lead.
Bonus football (futbol) game: FC Dallas at Sounders FC - Sunday 6:30 p.m.
The Sounders beat Sporting Kansas City with a goal in the 88th minute Thursday to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
Sunday will be Leg 1 of the confusing aggregate scoring method. Leg 2 will be played next week in Dallas. Whoever scores the most total goals in the two games wins the series (unless a bunch of tiebreakers come into play which we won't spend time explaining here).