Welcome to the sixth installment of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday at noon. This Sunday, the 3-2 Patriots are in Seattle to take on the feisty Seahawks, whose "12th Man'' home-field advantage should be negated by having Pete Carroll as their head coach. Let's get to it.
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY THAT I'LL BE WATCHING
Red Bryant: Seattle's defense is giving up the fewest yards per game in the league, and its rush defense is third-best at 66.6 yards per game. (Somehow that number has to be attributable to Tim Tebow.) Bryant, the Seahawks' tough fifth-year strong-side defensive end, is a significant part of their success in stopping the opposing ground game. And his presence should warrant extra attention from Patriots fans -- Bill Belichick coveted him in free agency this offseason. When he chose to remain with Seattle, the Patriots signed Jonathan Fanene as a consolation prize. He didn't make it out of camp.
Russell Wilson: His charisma, confidence, mobility, and knack for making the occasional big play have won him a lot of believers as a rookie, starting with his coach. But he's also undersized, inexperienced, and not particularly effective -- he's 26th in quarterback rating (75.2) and 33d in yards per game (163), ahead of just Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert. His upside might not be far from what Doug Flutie was at his best, and that's not an insult, but right now, Matt Flynn should be playing. You want a bold prediction? Here's a bold prediction: Wilson is going to make Devin McCourty look good come Sunday.
Stevan Ridley: So the 151 rushing yards will supersede that late fumble against the Broncos, right? He's so dynamic, the closest thing they've had to a true, must-be-accounted-for feature back since Corey Dillon in 2004, that Bill Belichick can't bury him this year like he did last postseason ... can he?
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD: Curtis Martin, who in my completely biased opinion is among the most underrated players in league history, the most underrated great New York athlete in history, and Bob Kraft's biggest blunder (other than that audition video, I suppose), is what Curt Warner would have been had he not blown out his knee 10 carries into his second NFL season. Now that I mention it, I can't think of two NFL players who were more similar than Martin and Warner, and no, the Barber twins don't count.
GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK, OR PETE CARROLL WAS A TERRIBLE COACH WITH THE PATRIOTS AND ANYONE WHO THINKS OTHERWISE WASN'T PAYING ATTENTION
Upon first glance and with absolutely no context, Pete Carroll's three-year run in New England doesn't look so bad. He went 27-21 in three season. He made the playoffs twice. He was enthusiastic. He had a swell winning percentage.
And you know what else? He was a failure who along with Bobby Grier ruined the foundation that Bill Parcells had built. That's not harsh. That's the truth. If you cared about the Patriots then, you don't need to be told this. You know. You remember. You remember what it was like when Curtis Martin was allowed to get away, when Terry Glenn was unaccountable and never called on it, when Ty Law became a flag-magnet, when Chris Slade rolled his eyes and checked out, when Bruce Armstrong plodded up the back stairs, when Vincent Brisby and Lawyer Milloy brawled and brawled again, and when Milloy raged about it all.
They got a little worse every season Carroll was here. They were a little more undisciplined, a little less accountable, with each passing season. They habitually regressed over a season's course, most notably in his final season, when they began 4-0 and ended 8-8.
They had talent, a lot of it -- Drew Bledsoe, Glenn, Law, Willie McGinest, and so on -- but the roster was thin, and the stars didn't play up to their ability. The weren't unlike the current Cowboys or Jets, full of fading talent and false confidence.
The Patriots, stacked with additional picks in part from losing Martin to the Jets, drafted horribly under Grier -- of the 27 players drafted from 1997-99, only Damien Woody was a full-time starter by the end of Bill Belichick's first season. But Carroll was responsible, too -- no one developed on his watch. He had Tebucky Jones playing cornerback, for Pete's sake. If there's a hypothetical enduring image of his tenure, it's of Carroll fist-pumping and jumping around like the first male cheerleader in franchise history after a supposed big play, then seeing the yellow flag and looking puzzled as the official announces that the Patriots had 13 players on the field.
His enthusiasm was impressive. He seemed like a decent man. And he had no business being the head coach of this professional football team at that point in time. Any other narrative is as incomplete as a Michael Bishop Hail Mary.
APPARENTLY BEAST MODE IS BOUNTY-PROOF
For the longest time, the run I considered the best I had ever seen was pulled off by a decent early-'80s running back for the Falcons named Lynn Cain. I can't remember the year or the game or the circumstances or much else, really. Just that I was about 10 years old, he broke a half-dozen tackles, or maybe it was a dozen, with an endless, anticipatory array of jukes and fakes and spins, and the play left me so amazed that sometime over the next few days I traded all of my Walter Payton football cards for Lynn Cain football cards. Now those are the details you do remember. The "Sweetness"-surpassing superstardom I envisioned never panned out -- I think Cain blew out a knee -- but his run stuck with me as something so spectacular that not even Barry Sanders turning Harlon Barnett into a spinning top could bounce it out of my top spot. But something finally did -- Marshawn Lynch, NFL wild-card game versus the Saints, January 2011. Sorry, Lynn Cain, wherever you are. That is the best run I've ever seen.
PREDICTION, OR THERE'S NO WAY THE PATRIOTS ARE LOSING TO A DOGGONE PETE CARROLL TEAM
Have I made it clear how I feel about Pete Carroll? Too subtle? Let's put it this way: Seattle's "12th man" is awesome, a true home-field advantage. The defense is effective and mean, especially its hard-hitting defensive backfield, and they're no treat to run against, either. I look forward to seeing how Tom Brady will attack them (think we may see a lot of Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead in this one), and I look forward to Lynch against Vince Wilford, Brandon Spikes, and the Patriots run defense. Ultimately, though, the headline says it all -- there's no way they're losing to a doggone Pete Carroll team. None. Patriots 31, Seahawks 13
(Last week's prediction: Patriots 45, Broncos 24. Final score: Patriots 31, Broncos 21. Season record: 3-2.)
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.