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New England Patriots - Week 6 Preview and Prediction: Fan's Take

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The New England Patriots have begun to play solid football over the past two weeks to reclaim their customary place at the top of the AFC East division. The team has developed a balanced offensive attack not seen in Foxboro since Super Bowl XXXIX.

Opponent's Profile

On Sunday, the league's top scoring team (33.0 points per game) will have their hands full when they travel to the Emerald City and face off with one the league's stingiest defenses. The Seattle Seahawks enter play unbeaten in their two home contests and possess a defense that ranks second in the league in points allowed (14.0 per game) and first in total yards allowed (258.6 per game).

Seattle's success at home this season has not come at the expense of the league's doormats, as the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys can attest. New England Patriots' fans should be cautiously optimistic that their team will not fall victim to the same suffocating stadium environment and defensive effort that the Packers and Cowboys had.

Against Green Bay in Week 3, the Seahawks' defense was superb; holding the Packers to 268 total yards while sacking quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times. The Monday night game will ultimately be remembered for the controversial ending, as the replacement officials awarded the victory to Seattle on a last second Hail Mary pass. Even after video reply the call on the field was upheld, handing the Packers their second loss of the season. While the blown call was the deciding factor, Seattle's defensive effort was what ultimately put the game in that situation in the first place, holding the high scoring Packers to just 12 points.

At home, the Seahawks are a different team, as one of the league's loudest home crowds add intensity to an already solid defense, one that has its sights set on slowing the prolific Patriots' offense. Such loud surroundings will certainly impact the flow of the game as false start penalties are likely to be called more often, stalling any Patriots' attack. The ability for Tom Brady to lead another balanced offensive attack and utilize the fast-paced no-huddle offense in CenturyLink Field will be a determining factor of the team's overall success.

While New England is balanced offensively, so is Seattle's defense; which can stop the run and apply ample pressure on the quarterback. When the ball is in the air, the large and physical Seattle secondary will make pass routes difficult to execute and punish the diminutive receivers if they run crossing routes over the middle.

Patriots' Offense

The New England Patriots have established a solid running game which currently ranks third in the league. How the trio of Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, and Danny Woodhead manage to gain positive yardage against a defensive line that ranks third in the league in run defense (66.6 yards per game ) will go a long way in deciding the outcome of the game. For the season, Seattle has yet to surrender 100 yards rushing to any team in 2012.

If the Patriots are unable to establish a running game early they will be subject to one of the league's better pass rush defenses, which allows the league's fifth fewest passing yards and is tied for fifth in sacks (16). Leading the Seattle pass rush is a pair of defensive ends in rookie Bruce Irvin (4.5 sacks) and seven-year veteran Chris Clemons (5.5 sacks). Rushing the quarterback is nothing new to Clemons who is coming off consecutive seasons with 11 sacks for Seattle.

The pass rush for Seattle has been an essential element of the team's success, with 13 of the team's 16 sacks occurring in Seahawks wins. The key for the Patriots is not to abandon the no-huddle offense, but rather to slow its pace. In doing so, the Patriots can better manage the game clock and cut down on the mental miscues that a rapid pace and noisy fan base can create, but also keep the Seahawks' defenders on the field and on their heels; lessening the impact of their defensive pressure.

An important factor to the Patriots' passing success on Sunday will also be the utilization of a two tight end formation; something that would be very effective if Aaron Hernandez is cleared to play on Sunday. Hernandez has missed the last three games with a high ankle sprain. The size, physicality and ability to stretch the field with the dual tight end threat would be beneficial against the aggressive Seattle secondary.

Patriots' Defense

On the opposite side of the line, the New England defense will have a real challenge in limiting the ground attack of the Seahawks, in particular the league's third leading rusher Marshawn Lynch. For the season Lynch is one of only three running backs to average over 100 yards per game and is a workhorse back for Seattle, as his second-best 113 carries in the league indicate. Lynch is no stranger to the Patriots; as the former Buffalo Bill has averaged a pedestrian 56 yards per game in his four prior contests against New England. Through the first five weeks of the NFL season, the Patriots have proven to be capable run stoppers, currently rank eighth in the league in rushing yards allowed (82.2 per game) but will have their hands full containing one of the game's more physical rushers.

The running game for Seattle is essential to the team's success as rookie signal-caller Russell Wilson is not yet a passer who can stretch the field at this stage of his career. The rookie has thrown for the second fewest passing yards (163.8 per game) of any quarterback in the league to have started in all five contests. The lack of a consistent passing attack places additional importance on the running game to put Seattle in short yardage situations on second and third down.

When the team does look to pass, the mobile Wilson will target the trio of Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Golden Tate. The three have caught a total of 39 passes for 493 yards in the season's first five games, only one more catch and nine more yards than Patriots' receiver Wes Welker has garnered on his own. The lack of a Seattle deep threat will take the pressure off of New England's secondary and allow their safeties to cheat up and assist against the running game.

Summary

The key to victory for the Patriots is to manage the game's early possessions and limit mental mistakes. The league's best team in turnover differential (+10) will be hard pressed to have another positive turnover game in this hostile environment. If the tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski are both active and on the field, Brady will have his short, intermediate and long targets all available. If the team can overcome the hostile environment and string together a long drive or two early on, the Seattle fans may be pacified.

In the end, this was one of the trap games that I feared the Patriots might lose before the season started. From what I have seen in the Seattle Seahawks' defense thus far, my initial suspicions have been validated. This game will likely be a grind out affair, with a score likely in the 20s.

So long as New England can overcome the loud surroundings and match the physical intensity on the field, the team should be able to put together a couple of first half scoring drives and take an early lead. If the Patriots fail to get the upper hand, the Seattle crown and the Seahawks' confidence will grow as the game progresses.

In the end, the inability for the Seahawks to create a legitimate passing threat will make is difficult for this run-dependent team to keep pace with a Patriots offensive attack that possesses far more options.

Final score

New England Patriots 23

Seattle Seahawks 17

Scott Duhaime is a fan and follower of the New England Patriots for over 30 years, witnessing the team's ascent from league irrelevance to among the league's elite franchises.

Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_Duhaime

Sources:

Yahoo! Sports: New England Patriots' roster , depth chart and player statistics

Yahoo! Sports: Seattle Seahawks roster , depth chart and player statistics

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