The schedule makers likely had no idea just what they were cooking up for Germany’s first-ever regular-season NFL game back in May, but the people of Munich are getting a doozy.
Sunday will mark the first time that two division leaders -- both surprising in different ways -- face off on the international stage. It will also be the first non-soccer event in Allianz Arena history.
The Seahawks were all but pronounced dead before the season started after trading away franchise cornerstone Russell Wilson. Thanks to Geno Smith’s career revival and what appears to be a slam-dunk rookie class, Pete Carroll’s squad is thriving in sole possession of first place in the NFC West.
The Buccaneers also sit atop their division. The twist is that they entered Week 10 sharing the lead with the Falcons before Atlanta lost on Thursday night, have a 25th-ranked scoring offense in disarray and currently have a losing record through nine games for the first time in Tom Brady’s career.
It’s been anything but easy for the Bucs thus far, but they have an opportunity Sunday to return to .500 for the first time since mid-October while simultaneously knocking a fellow division leader down a peg. For the Seahawks, a triumph in Munich would be a fifth straight victory and yet another step toward ending a two-year postseason hiatus.
Here are three things to watch for when the Seahawks and Buccaneers meet Sunday in Germany on NFL Network and NFL+:
- Does Smith continue to outplay Brady? It’s getting to the point where the league might have to start making up records for Brady to obliterate. Last week, he became the first quarterback to ever throw for 100,000 yards (including playoffs) and surpassed Peyton Manning for most game-winning drives (55). This week, the 45-year-old is just 258 yards away from attaining the record for passing yards in international games and is set to become the first QB to start a game in three different countries outside the United States, per NFL Research. Those achievements are predicated on both massive successes and unparalleled longevity, but Brady has been finding the former hard to come by as of late. The seven-time Super Bowl champ has stumbled through the season’s first half to career worsts in passing touchdown percentage (2.5) and passing TDs per game (1.1), plus his second-worst passing yards per attempt mark (6.4). Meanwhile, Smith has been the surprise of the season in a year that’s been full of them. He leads the NFL with a 73.1 completion percentage, a 14.3% jump from his career percentage before 2022. He currently sits third in the league with a passer rating of 107.2. Brady’s 90.5 rating is his lowest since 2019. Only three other QBs have ever squared off against Brady when entering the game with a rating 15-plus points higher -- Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. That's impressive company to be in, even if their combined record is 2-4 in those showdowns. Can Smith continue his revelatory season and add a win to the tally?
- You can only hope to contain Kenneth Walker. As much as Seattle’s fourth-ranked scoring offense is about Smith’s resurgence, Walker’s introduction to the starting lineup has turned the excitement factor up to 11 for the 12s. The rooking running back has proven to be the perfect combination of speed and tenacity, with a knack for gaining an extra couple of yards after it looks like he’s ready to go down. He’s had over 50 rushing yards and one-plus touchdowns in each of his last five games. That’s the longest streak by a Seahawks runner since Shaun Alexander in 2006-2007. He’s also joined LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson and Julius Jones as the only rookies since 1970 with 400-plus rushing yards and six or more rushing TDs in their first four starts. In other words, the Seahawks found a good one with their second-rounder. They know it, too. He’s averaged 23.5 touches during Seattle’s four-game win streak with him as a starter. Expect to see another heavy dosage of Walker in Germany. The Bucs defense has developed a reputation for snuffing out opponents on the ground, but that’s one of the many elements of Tampa Bay’s struggling club that has slipped in 2022. The defense has allowed 4.6 yards per carry, which is all the room a talent like Walker needs.
- Get ready for the Mike Evans-Chris Godwin show. Brady finally showing cracks has taken the heat off some other faulty pieces in Tampa Bay’s bizarro offense. For one, the running game has been historically dreadful behind a patchwork offensive line. The Buccaneers are last in the league with 60.7 rushing yards per game, the worst average by any team in a single season since 1950. The passing game has warts, as well, such as the 19 dropped passes through nine games, but it remains the path of least resistance in terms of sustaining drives. That’s why Tampa Bay has aired it out 40 or more times in every game since Week 3. Playing behind his worst O-line since relocating to Florida, Brady will continue getting the majority of those throws out fast and to his most-trusted pass catchers: Evans and Godwin. The two wideouts have combined for 71 targets in the last three games -- 47% of Brady’s ridiculous 151 attempts. It’s not unthinkable that every other throw goes to one of them in Germany. What's less certain is whether they can do damage against a revitalized Seattle defense. The Seahawks have tightened up to allow only 16.5 points per game during their winning streak, compared to 30.8 PPG through the season's first five weeks.