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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (3-0) at HOUSTON TEXANS (2-1)
The Seahawks try to stay perfect with a tough road tilt against the reeling Texans on Sunday afternoon.
Seattle has thrown for an NFC-best 9.2 yards per pass attempt and pummeled its past two opponents (49ers and Jaguars) by a combined score of 74 to 20. Houston won each of its first two contests on the final play of the game, but despite holding the Ravens to 236 yards (4.1 per play) last week, the club still lost 30-9 as the result of a conservative offense and poor special teams. It also hurt that top WR Andre Johnson left with a shin bruise, making him questionable for Sunday. The home team has won big in both all-time meetings in this series with the Seahawks prevailing 42-10 in 2005 and the Texans rolling to a 34-7 victory in 2009 when Johnson caught 11 passes for 193 yards and 2 TD. Seattle has plenty of betting trends in its favor on Sunday. In the past two seasons, the club is 16-5 ATS (76percent) overall, 11-3 ATS (79percent) after a win, 8-0 ATS after gaining 6+ yards per play and 7-0 ATS versus a team with a winning record. But since 1992, the Seahawks are just 3-18 ATS (14percent) off a home blowout win by 21+ points and 11-25 ATS (31percent) on the road after a double-digit home win. Houston also has some favorable trends in the past three seasons, including 6-0 ATS at home following a loss, 8-1 ATS (89percent) where the line is +3 to -3, and 21-8 ATS (72percent) on a grass field.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson is coming off a phenomenal game in the 45-17 blowout over Jacksonville, completing 14-of-21 passes for 202 yards, 4 TD and 1 INT. He has completed 64.4percent of his throws on the season and ranks third in the NFL in both passer rating (109.6) and yards per pass attempt (9.1). The Seahawks don't have a superstar receiver, but they do have great balance with 10 players having already caught multiple passes this season. WRs Sidney Rice (16 targets) and Golden Tate (15 targets) are usually Wilson's first two looks when he drops back, but TE Zach Miller has been nice safety valve with seven catches on his 10 targets, two of which have been in the end zone. But the Seahawks haven't possessed the football for 33:10 (6th in NFL) just by throwing. The ground game has chewed up 133 YPG (8th in league) thanks mostly to RB Marshawn Lynch who has carried the football 62 times (T-4th in NFL), but has a career-low 3.4 yards per carry this season. Backup RB Robert Turbin has been more effective with 4.4 YPC, but has only 12 carries with many of those coming after the game was no longer in doubt. Defensively, Seattle has just been incredible. In addition to forcing 10 turnovers, the unit leads the NFL in scoring defense (9.0 PPG), total defense (242 YPG) and passing defense (147 YPG), while allowing a mere 4.3 yards per play (4th in league) and a 32percent third-down conversion rate (6th in NFL). Shutdown CB Richard Sherman will be tasked with stopping Andre Johnson while the defensive line will look for its third straight game with at least three sacks. The team has a pretty small injury list, but both LB Malcom Smith and S Jeron Johnson are questionable with hamstring ailments.
Houston's offense has been erratic this season, but the team still leads the NFL with a +139 yards per game advantage. QB Matt Schaub has posted some gaudy passing numbers (66.4percent completions, 279 passing YPG and 6 TD), but he has also thrown four interceptions, with two of those returned the other way for touchdowns. Although he has the tendency to force-feed WR Andre Johnson (35 targets, 6th-most in NFL), he has also relied on two others frequently, rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins (26 targets, 18 catches) and TE Owen Daniels (20 targets, 12 catches, 3 TD). The Texans will try to be a run-first offense on Sunday, especially considering how great the Seahawks pass defense has been. RB Arian Foster takes the majority of hand-offs with 49, but has averaged a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry with just one touchdown. RB Ben Tate, on the other hand, leads all NFL running backs with 6.8 YPC, rumbling for 184 yards on his 27 attempts. Although Houston allowed 30 points last week, only 16 of those were offensive points as it was burned by a punt return touchdown and interception return TD. The Texans rank second in the NFL in both total defense (249 YPG) and first downs per game (14.7), frequently producing three-and-outs to put their offense back on the field. They have allowed a mere 4.3 yards per play (3rd in league) and place fifth in the NFL in both yards per carry (3.3 YPC) and yards per pass attempt (5.7 YPA). Houston has no major injuries on defense with FS Ed Reed making his team debut last week.
C.J. Spiller: Buffalo Bills to use me in expanded role
The new Buffalo Bills coach NFL Lines told reporters earlier this week he doesn't see C.J. Spiller merely as a situational running back. The days of seeing the Bills' most explosive playmaker on the sidelines in red-zone situations may be over.
In an interview that will air Friday at 7 p.m. ET on "NFL Total Access," Spiller spoke with Lindsay Rhodes about his opportunity to assume a featured back role in his fourth season. Is he reading into Marrone's comments the same way everyone else is?
"Pretty much," Spiller said. "We're gonna try to use me as much as possible and not let teams get one beam on me and say I can just run the ball. Hopefully I'll be utilized in space -- in the slot, whatever the case may be -- to try to help us find those mismatches to take advantage of."
Last season, Spiller became the first Bills player to gain at least 1,700 yards from scrimmage since Travis Henry in 2002, accomplishing the feat on 138 fewer touches. Spiller was asked if he felt he was underused by former Bills coach Chan Gailey.
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"I can't say that. I had my best year (in 2012) since I've been in the league. Unfortunately, I didn't get the carries the outside world wanted me to get, but I was fine with that," he said. "My best year that I ever had, and I'm looking forward to building on it."
So why didn't Spiller get the workload he deserved last year? Fred Jackson's high standing in the Bills' locker room surely played a role, as did the contract extension the team handed out to Jackson last May. Then there were the questions of whether Spiller had it in him to serve as a bell-cow back.
The Bills won't know the answer to that until Spiller gets his shot. That might be about to happen.
March Madness Bracket
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