It's hard to overlook the "What if's" of the 2012 Seattle Seahawks. What if they had beaten the Dolphins? What if they had beat the Lions? What if they beat just about any team that they lost to this season? That's one way to look at an 11-5 record for a team that in the final quarter of the season played like the best team in the NFL. The prospects of a home playoff game seem too good to ignore, the idea that the Seahawks should have won the division seems too real to dismiss. However, have we come so far from the last five or so seasons to forget how fortunate we are as fans to be rooting for a playoff team?
To be rooting for a really good playoff team?
Seattle just wrapped up one of the three best regular seasons in franchise history. In addition to that, they didn't really over-achieve like we would have figured this team would have to over-achieve in the beginning of the year to finish 11-5. Look around this team and tell me where they are truly weak? A franchise quarterback that we weren't sure we had going into the season. One of the three best running backs in the NFL, and he's got plenty of mileage left to give. An offensive line that features two Pro Bowl players. A set of receivers that may not win many awards and honors, but has done an excellent job of making catches and doing exactly what is expected of them. And that's just the offense.
But as talented as this team is, as good as any team in the playoffs this year, they will be heading on the road for the entirety of any Super Bowl run barring an unexpected run by the Vikings. The Seahawks, a 3-5 road team, will probably need to win three more road games if they want any shot at a championship. You know what I think about that?
"Why good? Are you a f***ing idiot?"
Maybe, but that's beside the point. But why is it good that the Seahawks, the best home team in the NFL, will be first headed to Washington and then continue on the road if they win? Because that's what this team, believe it or not, was built to do. The 2012 Seattle Seahawks have been counted against all season long and currently sit as the best in the NFL. They don't need any favors. In fact, I believe they relish the opportunity to be counted against again.
I went to Sammamish High School in Bellevue. When I was a junior, our football team was considered a sleeper in the 3A class but is historically one of the worst in our division's (or state) history. However, there was a strong senior class, a class that had played together for years, and there was some talent there. After a close opening-season loss to Bellevue High, the best team in the state, nobody counted on our team to make the 3A playoffs. Picking up a second loss that season seemed as devastating as a Backstreet Boys performance at a multi-cultural assembly, but a lucky chain of events left several two-loss teams in the division and we* were headed to the playoffs.
*I was the biggest kid in school but that only masked my weak muscles and bones. Luckily that prevents bullies from beating you up, but also makes people think you are good at football. I started the year on the team but suffered a hernia in practice before the season (because I lied on my birth certificate and was actually 64, apparently) which eventually gave me the excuse to just quit a game I was never any good at. I spent the game at Bellevue on the sidelines but took my bad luck off the squad permanently, so you're welcome Totes.
Every step of the way in the 3A state playoffs, through Timberline, O'Dea, and a Lakes team led by Reggie Williams, Sammamish was a big underdog. Every single time, the team was victorious. It wasn't until the state championship game against Prosser that people had finally taken notice and considered the Totems to be the favorites to win the 3A state title. Finally, eyes were watching and counting on my school's football team to be the champions. Despite an unbelievable comeback to take the lead in the fourth quarter, Prosser scored with :17 left to win the title. It was absolutely heartbreaking, but the team had already done what everyone had considered to be the impossible. Still, I couldn't help but wonder in the back of my mind, and still wonder to this day: "What if once again we were a big underdog?" Could that have caused Prosser to overlook Sammamish just a little bit more? Could that have changed the direction of the game to shift by seventeen seconds?
Probably not, but when you're second you always wonder what would have made you first. (I just imagine actual football players on that team reading this right now and telling me to shutup. Sorry dudes, see you at the reunion!)
The Seahawks were going in a direction of "the future" when Russell Wilson was chosen to be the starting quarterback. "Matt Flynn would be the win-now move." They were written off after an opening-season loss to the Cardinals. After falling to 4-4 and proving to be behind the curve of what the 49ers are building. And again after falling to 6-5 following a loss to the Dolphins. Seattle was a team that still wasn't ready to win on the road. And then everything changed immediately.
Beating the Bears in Chicago. Beating the Cardinals 58-0. Traveling to Toronto and beating the Bills 50-17. And finally showing that maybe the 49ers were the ones behind the curve. A 20-13 win over the Rams may have not been convincing, but the Rams had not lost in the division all year and mostly exposed that the Seahawks could have problems containing teams with a great pass rush. And yet, they still won despite six sacks and playing a fairly even game against a surprise Rams team. If anything though, I hope that a "ho-hum" victory over the Rams has taken the target off of the Seahawks back, even if it's only by a hair, by an inch, by seventeen seconds. "Don't worry, looks like we aren't that good after all!"
I sure hope that the NFL is going to overlook the Seahawks again and be picking the Redskins, their Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III, and their seven-straight wins to run over Seattle. Please do count the Seahawks out. That's exactly what this team loves. We, you and I, are Seattle fans. We were born with a chip on our shoulder. We aren't handed anything. Neither was Richard Sherman, or Wilson, or Doug Baldwin, or Brandon Browner. A close win? A 90-yard drive needed to score the go-ahead touchdown? Griffin winning the NFC East on national television? Phew!
For a minute there I was worried we would blow them out.
Here are a few more notes on the Seahawks final game of the regular season.
Russell Wilson's New Years Resolution is to get sacked less
Six sacks on Wilson by the Rams. Did the offensive line play terribly?* Well, you could certainly say that their was pressure all day, because there was, but how many teams stopped the Rams consistently at the line of scrimmage? Not many. St. Louis ends tied for the league-lead in sacks with the Broncos with 52 on the year. Additionally, the Rams cornerback trio of Cortland Finnegan, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson have played excellent football this season and Football Outsiders ranks St. Louis 8th against the pass through 15 games. Opposing offenses going into the game against the Rams:
65.7% completions, 3,677 yards, 15 TD, 17 INT, 7.0 Y/A, 81.9 QB rating.
Wilson against the Rams in Week 17: 15-of-19, 250 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 13.2 Y/A, 136.3 rating, 58 yards rushing and another touchdown. This is how Russell Wilson "struggles" now? Because that's certainly how it felt for much of the game as Seattle struggled to score a touchdown for much of the game, but the Rams played an excellent game up front against the offensive line and Wilson still completed all but four passes for 13.2 yards per attempt and he went without throwing a pick. A little bit of vengeance perhaps for Wilson's 3 INT game against St. Louis earlier this season.
The QB rating, for whatever it's worth, was his highest of the season, as was his 13.2 yards per attempt.
*I wrote this bit about the offensive line last night and this morning I got to thinking about it a little more. The Rams do have an excellent pass rush, but we are talking about six sacks on one of the hardest quarterbacks in the NFL to sack, isn't that right Ahmad Brooks? The Rams did an excellent job of bringing pressure, as they are wont to do, but the line needs to get better this week. Even if the Redskins aren't a very good pass-rushing team, leave open big holes like that and they will look like a good pass-rushing team.
Mr. Wilson's home
Wilson ends the season as the best quarterback at home in the NFL: 106-of-164, 64.6%, 1,504 yards, 17 TD, 2 INT, 123.6 rating, 9.17 Y/A, 10.70 adjusted Y/A, 47 rushes for 223 yards and 1 TD. Plus that whole "8-AND-Oh-My-God" thing. Let me throw out some comparisons just so you know that I ain't russelin' dixie:
Aaron Rodgers at home: 7-1, 67%, 2,046 yards, 17 TD, 5 INT, 7.33 Y/A, 7.75 adjusted Y/A, 101.3 rating, 129 yards rushing and 2 TD.
Tom Brady at home: 6-2, 61.9%, 2,389 yards, 16 TD, 3 INT, 96.5 rating, 7.28 Y/A, 7/86 aY/A, 2 rushing TD.
Peyton Manning at home: 7-1, 67.8%, 2,381 yards, 22 TD, 3 INT, 112.3 rating, 7.99 Y/A, 9.01 aY/A, he don't rush, not even for TD.
Matt Ryan at home: 7-1, 65.1%, 2,153 yards, 11 TD, 9 INT, 86.2 rating, 7.22 Y/A, 6.60 aY/A
Robert Griffin III at home: 5-3, 64.2%, 1,414 yards, 8 TD, 1 INT, 98.4 rating, 7.44 Y/A, 8.05 aY/A, 68 rushes for 525 yards and 4 TD.
Of course, there are varying degrees of what it means to be "better" and Manning especially stands out, but Wilson is in the conversation at the very top and is the only one that can say he went 8-0 at home. Even more interesting is that Ryan is actually pretty below-average at home and that Griffin, though he avoids turnovers like he has all season, has not only proven to be beatable at home but is wildly contained in the passing game to the point where he has less yards than even Wilson. And it has resulted in only eight passing touchdowns. Griffin is a threat on the ground with the addition of Alfred Morris like almost no other (Wilson and Lynch might have something to say about it, but Wilson is not the runner that Griffin is) but in the passing game? There is a lot of talk about how little Wilson throws it but not any (and I mean ANY) talk about how much Griffin throws it.
Wilson: 393 pass attempts in 16 starts
Griffin: 393 pass attempts in 15 starts
Wilson: 7.9 yards per attempt
Griffin: 8.1 yards per attempt
Wilson throws touchdowns more often. Griffin throws interceptions less often. The NFC East is probably the worst pass defense division in the NFL, the NFC West is the best pass defense division in the NFL. Griffin is a bigger home run threat on the ground. I'm sure that in the back of their minds both of these players want to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. That would be neat for them. But on the front of their minds by the temporal lobe (please be right without Google) they want to win on Sunday. There is no consolation prize, not even the ROY, the only thing that will matter this week is winning that game. That really will not "settle" the debate, but it's the only thing that's important.
Seahawks' defense resolution is to give up even fewer points
Because you can never be too thin!
Seattle finished as the top scoring defense for the first time in history by a significant margin (best was #6 scoring defense in '84) and giving up the fourth-fewest yards in the NFL, also a franchise-best. (Screw you, '84! There's a new mean girl in town!) The Seahawks finished 5th in takeaway/giveaway margin, which isn't as good the '84 team which ranked 1st. (Regina strikes back!) (Yeah, Mean Girls references. We are going to the playoffs, I'm goin' all out.)
Seattle's margin of victory of +10.4 is the second-best in franchise history, behind the 2005's mark of 11.3, but this team played a considerably (and I mean that in the strongest sense of the word) tougher strength of schedule.
Marshawn Lynch finishes with the third-most rushing yards in team history (1,590) and his 5.0 yards per attempt only fell 0.1 shy of Alexander's mark in 2005 as a franchise-best for a primary ball-carrier behind maybe the best offensive line in the modern era. Wilson finished with the best QB rating (100.0) in franchise history, and as we all know, 100 is a perfect score. His 7.9 Y/A is the highest in franchise history with a minimum of ten starts.
Remember when we were like, "He's good but all potential and very little ability to be great now"? Of course you do, it was only a couple months ago. Who are you? Memento from the movie Memento? He has consistently been one of the best yards-per-attempt-getters in the NFL over the second half of the season, usually topping 8.0, sometimes topping 10.0, and his QBR is as good as it gets in the NFL since the first 49ers game. I'm in the camp that did not expect this. If being wrong is bad then why do I feel so good? I'm more excited than when Cady found out that Aaron Samuels had a crush on her.
Damn it Russell, I was done talking about you earlier in this article! Back to others.
I have a New Years Resolution to talk about the other Seahawks more often
- Doug Baldwin. Your numbers went down considerably this year, so, to hell with numbers. When you hear Baldwin's name called, it always seems like something good is happening. Last year, Fresh was a bright spot on an offense without many bright spots. This season, he has sort of faded into the background behind some significant breakouts as other players start to play to the level that Baldwin played at last year. Okay, fine, fade into the background.
Maybe that's why you are open for 50-yard bombs, even if they get called back. :( They won't always get called back.
- This was not Anthony McCoy's best game all-around, but a 49-yard catch is a reminder that McCoy has come up with some huge plays this season. He will play a significant role in the playoffs. Most importantly, he makes Russ happy.
- Lead blocker for the one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, touchdown catcher, viral video sensation. Michael Robinson does it all. My gut instinct also tells me that Robinson is the locker room MVP of the team and I hardly believe there is a team in the NFL that would not love to have him. In retrospect especially, one of the weirdest cuts that I can think of.
- Leon Washington may not like taking knees but something tells me he has has a kick return touchdown to give in the playoffs.
- We don't even say things about Brandon Mebane. Why don't we say things about Brandon Mebane? Oh sure, sometimes you turn to your cohort or confidant and say, "I luv Mebane" but do you do it often enough? Make a resolution to say more things about Brandon Mebane. I feel like when this team was bad and Mebane was just about the best thing going, we couldn't get enough of it. Now, we don't have to focus on Mebane because of all those other guys.
Hey, if Freddy Mercury played with the Rolling Stones, he'd still be Freddy Mercury. (Let's be honest though, Mercury > all front men ever.)
- Welcome back, Brandon Browner! Much credit to be given to Jeremy Lane, Byron Maxwell, and Marcus Trufant in his absence. Still very happy to get Browner back and give Seattle that much more depth and options. It would be even nicer if Walter Thurmond III was surgically implanted with Adamantium.
- I feel like Bruce Irvin is coming along faster than we could really notice. But maybe I'm grasping at straws. He does not look like the second-coming of Aldon Smith or anything right now, but pass-rushers are one of those specialties that seem to have a longer learning curve. We never know when he could bust out for a huge game in the playoffs, because the natural-given talent is there.
Here is to 2013: May it be better than any before it
I hope that the Seahawks resolution is to "Win more Super Bowls this year. I have not done a good job in my life of winning Super Bowls, but this year I pledge to win more than I have in any other year of my life!" That would be neat, especially if they were one of the few that stuck to their resolutions.
Seattle ends 2012 on the highest note we could have hoped for: Winners of five straight, the best team in football during that time, young, ready, and relatively-healthy. They did not win the division, they did not get a guaranteed home game, but Pete Carroll has prepared this group to be as good as anyone in the NFL. That does not mean that they will end the season as the best team in the NFL, because it seems so rare that the regular season's "best" wins the only "best" trophy that matters, but we're here now and we're here quicker than most fans expected.
I think that a 20-13, under-two-minutes win was the best thing that could have happened to the Seahawks in Week 17. A reminder that good teams are hard to beat and blowouts are usually few and far between. It just so happened that for a stretch, blowouts were often and close together. Playoff teams aren't going to "lay down." Playoff teams are usually very talented. The Rams finished the season better than some playoff teams. (Put the Texans and the Rams on the field next week and I dare you to pick Houston.)
This is what Seattle needed. A grudge match. A barn-burner. A cliche. They came out on top and if they had come out on bottom it wouldn't have changed their standings at all, they would just be a power bottom. But it's not just about the standings, it's about proving something to yourselves. About winning a game where you lost some battles and kept it close for sixty minutes. Because that's likely what you will face in the playoffs. You never know when you'll wind up playing Lakes and see Reggie Williams drop would-be game-winning touchdown passes in a tight score against one of the best teams you've faced all year. But you do have to be ready for it. You don't want to get caught with your pants down as the sports medicine guy checks you for a hernia in front of all your peers.
I don't know how many more wins they will get this year, but I do think they're a little more ready.