MUNICH—The Seahawks and Buccaneers will face on Sunday at Allianz Arena in what will be the first regular-season NFL game played in Germany. But in addition to the novelty of that first, this is also an important game between a pair of division-leading teams looking to strengthen their playoff chances.
The Seahawks are looking to add to a four-game winning streak, while the Bucs got a confidence boost last week by ending a three-game losing streak with a last-minute comeback victory over the Rams.
Here are five things to watch when these two teams face off in Munich on Sunday:
1. Will German Seahawks fans make this feel like a home game?
When the Seahawks went to London four years ago, the schedule said it was the Raiders' home game, but despite that technicality, 12s took over the city in the days leading up to the game, and made Wembley Stadium sound a bit like Lumen Field on gameday.
"It felt like a home game," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after Seattle's 2018 win in London. "Not only were they so much for us, they made it hard on the other team as well. I know that Germany supports us well and the people here in Great Britain supported us as well, and I'm sure there's a bunch of other people who came, as well as our own fans who made the trip. We're grateful for them, it made it a very special event today."
This week, the Seahawks are hoping history repeats itself in Germany, another European country that is home to a big Seahawks following. Dating back to when NFL games started being shown on German television in the middle of last decade, the Seahawks have become one of the popular NFL teams in that country, because fresh off back-to-back Super Bowl runs, their games were frequently televised, not to mention the star power those teams had.
The Seahawks will prepare for all crowd-noise scenarios—a pro-Seahawks crowd, a pro-Bucs one, or a more neutral crowd that cheers at less predictable times—but they're optimistic that the 12s, both ones from Germany and those who made the trip from Seattle or elsewhere, will create a memorable environment.
"German fans are going to embrace us and love us," he said. "I'm not sure on if they know who to root for, but we'll make sure they are with us when we step on that field; that's the goal.
"I feel like the Germans are going to do their thing. They are great hosts. They have been preparing and organizing and making sure everything is set up. It's going to be a party. I already know they are excited, and it's going to be a Super Bowl in every sense of the word."
2. Can one of the NFL's most productive pass rushes get to Tom Brady?
The Seahawks' recent defensive turnaround has taken place for a number of reasons, and one of them has been a resurgent pass rush that has become one of the best in the NFL over the past month. After recording only eight sacks in their first five games, the Seahawks have piled up 19 in the last four games, bringing their season total to 27th, the fourth most in the NFL despite that quiet start.
Uchenna Nwosu has led the way with a career-best 7.0 sacks, including four in the past two games, but plenty of others have chipped in, including Darrell Taylor and Quinton Jefferson, who each have 3.0 sacks, as well as five other players with multiple sacks.
Keeping that level of success up against Tom Brady will not be an easy task, however. Brady has been difficult to sack throughout his Hall of Fame career not because of his athleticism, but because he doesn't just about everything the job requires at the highest level, from getting the ball out quickly, to understanding what a defense is trying to do against him, to being incredibly adept at making the subtle movement in the pocket that can make the difference between a sack and a near miss followed by a completed pass.
"He's a great player; he is the greatest of all time," Carroll said. "So, we get to go against him, and we'll go take our shot and see if we can knock him down."
Said defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt, "That's always going to be the challenge. This guy has seen everything, there's not a whole lot that you can disguise from him, but you have to continue to work that way. We have to play smart like we've been doing. Obviously, we have to change up some looks and things like that. If we can catch him off guard, that would be great, but like I said, this guy has played a lot of football. The GOAT, everybody says that, this guy is the best, so you have to work to that and look forward to the challenge."
While the players up front like Nwosu will for the most part being the ones tasked with getting to Brady, another key factor in slowing Brady down will be the play—and the decision making—of middle linebacker Jordyn Brooks. No quarterback has seen more or knows more about football than Brady, so as the defensive play-caller, Brooks is playing something of a game of football Chess with the sport's Grand Master.
"He has come so far, and he commands so much information," Carroll said of Brooks. 'He is the conduit from the coaching staff to the rest of the guys on the field. He's embraced it seriously as a pro, he has really taken it seriously, and he really cares. He's growing, getting better, and doing a million things that he's going to do even better. He's going to continue to get better because he will be in total command, he will be able to teach it to everybody in time. He is at the centerpiece of all of the communications. He has done it in such a good fashion because he cares so much, and he really respects the work and that responsibility in a great way. He's a great football player to boot. I was really thrilled when I was recognizing it last night with him, to share that with him how proud we are of the work that he is doing. It is amazing how much stuff he has done, it's really cool."
3. The Geno Show goes international.
With every standout performance and every Seahawks win, Geno Smith's status as legitimate star quarterback seems to grow, to the point that he's now one of the marquee players being promoted ahead of an international showcase game for the league.
It's an incredibly rapid rise in one sense seeing as Smith wasn't even guaranteed to emerge the starter in training camp, yet at the same time it has been a long time coming for a player who had to wait eight years for another chance to start again.
Smith is among the league leaders in nearly every statistical category, he has already thrown a career-high 15 touchdown passes, and he has helped lead the Seahawks to four consecutive victories. Also, as he showed last week, immediately leading three straight touchdown drives after throwing a pick-six against Arizona, Smith has a tremendous amount of poise, a trait that should serve him well this weekend as the spotlight on him continues to grow.
"Going back to his consistency, Geno throughout the first, second, third and fourth quarters, has been the same guy. Then in the fourth quarter when the crowd is getting into it or the situation might seem like it is different, he has kept it the same. He hasn't tried to make anything up in those scenarios, and really our offense as a whole is playing really consistent and is relying on the fundamentals and the belief in the basics in those most critical points. They have made those just like when we come out here, practice, and have these hard competitive periods in practice trying to simulate those game situations. It's really trying to put your mind in the same mind frame that the fourth quarter is no different than those situations, and they have done a great job with that."
4. How does the Seahawks interior line deal with game-wrecking DT Vita Vea.
One of the many reasons Smith has enjoyed such a strong season has been the strong play from the offensive line, a group that has essentially become a starting six with Phil Haynes splitting time at right guard with starter Gabe Jackson. Those six players, along with Seattle's tight ends, have given Smith enough time to carve up opposing defenses, and they've also helped pave the way for Kenneth Walker III, and before him Rashaad Penny, to put up big numbers.
But keeping a clean pocket on Sunday will be a big challenge thanks to a talented Buc's defensive front, one anchored by former University of Washington standout and 2018 first-round pick Vita Vea.
Utilizing a rare, even by NFL standards, combination of power, size and speed, Vea has looked even better in 2022 than he did during his Pro-Bowl 2021 season.
"He does a great job of using his hands to push the pocket," offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said. "For such a big guy, he can re-direct. Really, their interior push in general and then you add the backers as great blitzers as well, they generate a lot of interior pocket chaos. They do a great job knowing where he is at, and our guys will be great with their technique and fighting through the echo of the whistle on every play."
Seattle's entire line will be tested by the Buc's pass rush, but the interior linemen will really have their hands full with Vea, who has a career-high 6.5 sacks this season, including four in Tampa Bay's last three games.
"I think him just being the size that he is and his relentless pass rush, he has a good motor," said center Austin Blythe. "I'm looking forward to the challenge this week."
5. Can the defense keep forcing turnovers against an offense that doesn't give the ball up?
One of the many things the Seahawks are doing well on defense this season is take the ball away from their opponents. Seattle's 15 takeaways are tied for fourth most in the NFL, and they've forced two in seven of nine games, and had one last week, a total that could have been higher if an illegal contact penalty away from the play hadn't negated a Coby Bryant interception, or had a Bryant forced fumble that Seattle recovered not been overturned on replay.
Continuing to play takeaway against the Brady and the Buccaneers won't be easy, however. Tampa Bay has turned the ball over only seven times this season, tied for second fewest in the league, and has been particularly good of late, committing just one turnover in the last five games.
The Seahawks practiced at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton on November 8, 2022 in preparation for Week 10 vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. Seahawks practice photos are presented by Gatorade.