(Sports Network) - The Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs have both been able to move to the top of their respective division standings despite poor play on the road this season.
While the Seahawks can take comfort in the fact that four of their final six games this regular season are in the friendly confines of Qwest Field -- including this Sunday's matchup with Kansas City -- the Chiefs must find a way to win on the road for the first time in over two months.
It appears as if both the Chiefs and Seahawks are going to be involved in tight division races down the stretch. AFC West-leading Kansas City (6-4) owns just a one-game lead over both Oakland and San Diego, while Seattle (5-5) has St. Louis just a game off the pace in the NFC West with Arizona and San Francisco two games back.
The Chiefs lent the Seahawks a hand this past weekend as they delivered the Cardinals a 31-13 loss at Arrowhead Stadium. The victory improved Kansas City to 5-0 at home, but the club has lost four straight on the road since a victory in Cleveland back on Sept. 19. The club is allowing 31.5 points per game over that four-game road slide.
Running back Thomas Jones and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe both accounted for two touchdowns in Sunday's win, with Bowe finding the end zone for a club-record sixth straight game. Bowe, who has 10 touchdowns and 563 yards in that span, broke the previous mark held by Chris Burford (1962) and Otis Taylor (1966).
Defensively, the Chiefs did not allow a touchdown until the game's final play as they halted a two-game slide and won for the third time in seven games since beginning the season 3-0. Kansas City's six wins this year matches its combined total from the past two seasons as the club eyes its first playoff berth since 2006.
"This was a big victory for us, especially in front of our home crowd," quarterback Matt Cassel said. "In all phases we played well, offense and defense. Our run game was strong and that continues to put us in great situations and manageable situations."
Seattle struggled in both of its phases on Sunday in a 34-19 loss in New Orleans. Despite 424 yards of offense, the Seahawks found the end zone just once, settling for four field goals while fumbling twice. On the other side of the ball, Seattle was tagged for 494 yards by the Saints and allowed them to convert 11 of their 15 chances on third down.
The Seahawks were bailed out in the standings though as the other NFC West residents -- the Rams, 49ers and Cardinals -- all lost as well on Sunday.
Even though Seattle fell to 2-4 on the road this year and lost for the third time in four games overall, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for a season-high 366 yards despite a wrist injury suffered the previous weekend, likes his teams chances this season.
"I feel we can take one thing away from this game, and that is improvement," he said. "Obviously we are not there yet. We have a lot of work to do, but I like the direction we are headed in."
The first direction the Seahawks headed was back west to Qwest Field, where they are 3-1 this season. Seattle was pounded, 41-7, by the Giants in its last home game on Nov. 7, however.
The Chiefs have a 31-18 edge in their all-time series with the Seahawks, including a 35-28 home victory when the teams last met, in Week 8 of the 2006 season. Seattle won the previous meeting, a 39-32 affair at home in 2002. The Chiefs are 0-2 in Seattle since last winning there in 2000. The teams played twice a year as members of the AFC West from 1978 through 2001.
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll is 1-1 in his career against the Chiefs, including a win while with New England in 1998 and a loss while with the Pats in 1999. The Chiefs' Todd Haley will be meeting both Carroll and Seattle for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
Though Bowe (45 receptions, 11 TD) is on a franchise record-setting pace, the strength of the Chiefs offense continues to be its top-ranked ground game. Jones (644 rushing yards, 5 TD) and Jamaal Charles (848 rushing yards, 30 receptions, 3 total TD) have totaled 295 rushing attempts this year and are averaging a combined 5.1 yards per carry. Charles set up both of Jones' touchdowns last week with a long pass and run play and finished with 88 yards on just 12 carries for a 7.3 average. He also caught four passes for 38 yards, while Jones finished with 15 carries for 71 yards. Bowe led all Chiefs with six receptions for 109 yards, his third 100-yard receiving game this year, and is just one TD shy of Burford's single-season mark of 12 receiving touchdowns set in 1962. Cassel (2074 passing yards, 18 TD, 4 INT) only completed five passes to receivers not named Bowe or Charles on Sunday, posting 193 yards on 15-of-24 throwing. Tight end Tony Moeaki (31 receptions, 2 TD) is second on the club in receiving, but missed the game due to a concussion suffered the previous week. He hopes to return this weekend, while wide receiver Dexter McCluster could also come back from an ankle injury that has held him out of the past four games.
Seattle's 28th-ranked defense (388.6 YPG) struggled versus the Drew Brees-led Saints pass attack and things didn't get any easier when top corner Marcus Trufant (51 tackles, 1 INT) suffered a concussion and had to be replaced by rookie Walter Thurmond (29 tackles). The Seahawks will hope he can go this weekend as they need all the help they can get to shut down Bowe after Brees lit up Seattle's secondary for 382 yards and four touchdown passes and wasn't sacked once. The Seahawks did intercept the quarterback twice, getting picks from linebacker David Hawthorne (53 tackles, 1 INT) and safety Earl Thomas. Hawthorne led the club with 12 tackles, marking the second time in three games he reached that total, while Thomas (55 tackles) grabbed his NFL rookie- leading fifth pick. Seattle, which did not force a turnover, also got nine tackles from Thurmond and eight from Thomas, while linebacker Aaron Curry (42 tackles, 3 sacks) donated six stops. Already without defensive end Red Bryant (18 tackles, 1 sack) due to a season-ending knee injury, defensive tackle Colin Cole (29 tackles, 1 sack) is expected to miss his fourth game in a row because of an ankle issue.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Red-zone issues plagued the Seahawks last weekend as the club settled for two field goals and one touchdown on three trips. Kicker Olindo Mare also converted a pair of field goals from the 25-yard line for a Seattle club that ranks 27th in scoring (18.5 PPG) and 29th in offense (300.4 YPG). Hasselbeck (2110 passing yards, 8 TD, 7 INT) did complete 32-of-44 pass attempts for his second straight 300-yard passing game. He hooked up with Ben Obomanu (15 receptions, 3 TD) for a two-yard touchdown pass, with the wide receiver ending with five catches for 87 yards. Wideout Mike Williams (52 receptions, 1 TD) ended with six receptions for a team-best 109 yards, but suffered a foot injury that could keep him out of this game. Veteran Brandon Stokley (17 receptions) showed he can serve as a capable replacement after hauling in six passes for 76 yards. Seattle's ground game struggled yet again as Marshawn Lynch (417 rushing yards, 2 TD) led the club with 36 yards on seven carries, but fumbled twice. Justin Forsett (407 rushing yards, 2 TD) had just 10 yards on a club-leading eight carries and Seattle is averaging just 83.7 YPG on the ground. Though guard Chester Pitts might miss this game with a sprained ankle, 2010 first-round pick Russell Okung was able to make his fourth start at left tackle this year after battling high sprains to both of his ankles.
Kansas City's defense has struggled on the road in the points department, but does rank 12th overall at 20.7 PPG. The Chiefs should also have no problem containing Lynch and Forsett as they rank 12th against the run (104.1 YPG). Despite their 18-point victory over the Cardinals, the Chiefs did yield 382 yards of offense and failed to force a turnover. Like the Seahawks, they also lost their top corner Brandon Flowers (46 tackles, 2 INT) to a hamstring injury during the game and he did not return after suffering the ailment. He is questionable for this game, which could put more of a strain on fellow defensive backs Brandon Carr (36 tackles), Javier Arenas (26 tackles, 1 sack) and Travis Daniels, especially if safety Jon McGraw (25 tackles, 2 INT) misses another game with knee and head injuries. Kendrick Lewis (22 tackles) started alongside Eric Berry (58 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) in place of McGraw versus Arizona and finished with five tackles. Arenas and Berry led the club with eight tackles and Flowers had seven as well as two passes defensed before his exit. Arenas also had one of Kansas City's two sacks, with linebacker Demorrio Williams (13 tackles, 1 sack) posting the other. Linebacker Derrick Johnson (81 tackles, 1 INT) is Kansas City's leading tackler, while outside LB Tamba Hali (29 tackles) is tops on the club with eight sacks.
Charles owners were punished last week by his inability to cap off big plays as Jones vultured two touchdowns away from the playmaking back. Charles remains the better start of the two because of his higher yard average as well as his pass-catching ability, but Jones isn't a terrible flex play given the matchup. With the bye weeks over, Cassel becomes a little less worthy of a fantasy start given Kansas City's dominating run game, but Bowe is a must- start regardless. Moeaki owners need to watch the inactive list again this week. KC's defense is a middle-of-the-road play as it doesn't force a lot of turnovers, while kicker Ryan Succop is 14-for-18 this year and has missed both tries from beyond 50 yards, but is a perfect 4-for-4 between the 40-49 yard line.
Seattle's offense offers little value, though Hasselbeck has begun heating up and draws the 25th-ranked pass defense, making him a solid sleeper play. Deon Butler and Obomanu see added value if Williams can't play, as does tight end John Carlson. Avoid both Lynch and Forsett as well as Seattle's defense. Mare could see his fair share of chances if Seattle struggles again in the red zone and he is 19-for-22 this year as well as 5-for-6 from 40 yards or beyond.
Two surprising first-place teams will be trying to keep pace in tight races and prove they belong in the playoff picture. The Chiefs will have a hard time doing that if they don't improve their road play and face a tough challenge in a Seahawks club that is looking to rebound from an embarrassing home loss to the Giants a few weekends ago. Seattle has several nagging injuries to deal with and no run game, but Hasselbeck is a veteran who is starting to hit a groove. The Chiefs should be looking to grind the ball on the ground to slow down the pace and keep Seattle's "12th man" out of the game. How successful they are at that will be the difference and the tandem of Charles and Jones should get the job done.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chiefs 24, Seahawks 16