Any football fan will tell you a win is a win. That was accomplished before the end of the half. And a win is a win, but a performance is not a performance and a winning team not a winning team. Yesterday's game would have sucked, if a win is a win. Yesterday's game would have been two quarters of fun and two quarters of slog, if a win a is a win. But it didn't and wasn't. It was exciting football for Seahawks fans, because one story held throughout. One story surpassed competitiveness. Seattle had its win and then did something just as important: It proved it could be great.
A football season moves in jumps and sprints, with only 16 games to win and 17 weeks to do it in. If you win enough you get into the playoffs and then the environment changes enough that a regular season dog can become a playoff favorite. But that doesn't happen too often, last two seasons notwithstanding.
Typically, the Divisional Round is the blowout round. It pits a fringe contender and favorite, the favorite at home, the fringe contender away, a week's worth of injuries and wear weaker.
As Seattle learned in 2007, football, for all its brevity and chaos is not random. The best luck can't help a truly overmatched team. The NFL produces dynasties and historic losers. In 43 Super Bowls, eight separate teams have won back to back Super Bowls. In that same time, only five teams have won back to back World Series. It doesn't avail itself to easy calculation, but there's a ton of information packed into every game. I try to do the unquantifiable bits. Player performance is not static, but there is a range.
We can't quantify individual performance in any meaningful way, except maybe at quarterback, but we can get a sense what teams are special. They are, without pretention, the teams that destroy their opponents. Not the guts and glory, grind it out and win close Cardiac whatevers, but the brick shithouses that turn breaks in blowouts.
Seattle isn't really there yet, but its point differential is coming around. By holding the shutout, yesterday's game held excitement throughout, and holding the shutout, Seattle moved it Pythagorean win projection back atop the NFC West. Seattle is +33. Its opponents are -35. That is mostly the Rams, who are -112 overall and -76 in Boller's 2 ¾ games. The 49ers are second at +14 and the only other positive team in the division. Their schedule has been a bit stronger and its opponents have combined for +22. You might notice that point differential was constructed on Sunday, when Seattle put Jacksonville in the red and San Francisco boosted Atlanta from four to 39. It was a 76 point swing and enough to make one schedule look weak and the other strong.
It's a little too early for opponent adjustment. It isn't too early to guess what kind of team Seattle might be. In the games Matt Hasselbeck has started and finished, Seattle has won 69-0. It's +66 if you factor in the half he played in San Francisco. That's not a pace of course, but if we pretend for a second, +66 through 10 quarters projects to +422 through a season. The unbeaten Patriots were +315. No matter the opponent, that is utter domination.
That underscores the significance of Hasselbeck's health. The team is +66 when he's under center and -33 when he's not. The HasselHawks are a playoff contender. The SeneHawks are not. The team, overall, is playing like a contender. It's net +4.4 yards a drive. That would put it ahead of Arizona but behind Minnesota for eighth in 2008. But overall is, not surprisingly, two exceptional weeks of HasselHawks superseding two and half weeks of terrible SeneHawks. Yesterday alone is enough to fustigate the numbers as vulnerable as they are. Seattle somehow averaged 40 yards an offensive drive and allowed only 17.18 yards a defensive drive. Seattle netted 22.82 yards a drive. The 2007 Patriots netted 15.20 yards over a season. That was almost double the 2007 Colts 8.93, but that Colts team would rank first overall in all but three seasons from 1998 to 2008.
In the two games Matt Hasselbeck has started and finished, Seattle net 23.9 yards. It played like the greatest team in the history of the NFL. Some of that's coincidence, playing at home, the strength of its opponents and subtler things like health and matchups. A run first team without a pass rush is a cake matchup for the 2009 Hawks. No, it's not all Hasselbeck, nor is this team guaranteed to contend should he stay healthy. It's too small a sample to say anything for sure. The extremes will regress, but the early numbers seem clear. There's a team in Seattle that has shown it can compete and a team that has shown it cannot. Hasselbeck separates the two.
Everything I hope for depends on a modest-looking thirty-something man and his ability to survive eleven weeks of hits, sacks and scrambles.