We all want the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl this season. Assuming that you are a Seahawks fan of course. If you are not a Seahawks fan, then welcome to a Seahawks site, but I just wanted to be clear that's what this was. "Field Gulls" is actually a pun on Field Goal and Seagulls, and not an adult-oriented website geared toward field hockey players with a speech impediment. (Get it? Field Girls? Speech impediment? I'm two days sober.)
"Building a Champion" is the concept that I am most enamored with when it comes to researching and writing about the Seahawks. I think it's a common thread and theme among most of the Seahawks writers and people on this site. Maybe on Patriots websites they don't concern themselves with stuff like this. Maybe this allows them to write about Tom Brady's hair and Giselle's other body parts besides hair, because "We don't need to know nothin' 'bout how to win, 'cause we ah wicked awesum."
And maybe they're right. The Seahawks have no championships and they've only been to a championship game once, so we don't necessarily have in-depth knowledge on building a champion, or at least we've never seen the formula work save for maybe one season, when the team was perhaps the best in the league in 2005 and did virtually everything in their power to be a "champion."
(Damn the use of quotation marks on the word champion there.)
My fascination with building a champion grows and it continues today. My focus actually isn't to look at the Seahawks or the 2013 season, but only a retrospection on past Super Bowl winners and where their team was at in the season prior to winning a championship. By doing this, perhaps it will give us more insight on what the 2011 season means in regards to how Seattle could improve in 2012 and how close they just might be to winning the final game of the NFL post-season.
Or maybe it's just a way for me to kill time on my lunch break and it means nothing. This is also a common theme among my pieces at Field Gulls and also probably on the website I just decided to create about field hockey players with speech impediments.
Here are some words about Super Bowl champs and what they did the season before they were Super Bowl champs.
2011 New York Giants
2011 record: 9-7
2010 record: 10-6
The Giants added Jason Pierre-Paul in the draft but his production as a rookie was noteworthy on potential but short on being an impact player on the field for sixty minutes. New York started the season at 9-4 and looked prime to make the postseason, but a disaster collapse against the Eagles (outscored 28-7 in the fourth quarter and lost 38-31 on a Desean Jackson punt return to end the game) basically foiled their plans to win the NFC East. They lost the next week to the Packers and finished 10-6 after a win over Washington, but the Eagles won the division and the Packers won the Wild Card with an identical record by way of the tie breaker.
Famously, this pissed off a lot of Giants and Bucs fans since the Seahawks made the playoffs at 7-9, then beat the Saints or so I'm told.
Hakeem Nicks had a breakout season in 2010 (79 catches for 1,052 yards) and the Giants got 11.5 sacks each from Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. They mostly stood pat with the players that they had and hoped to mature from within. They let players like Steve Smith and Kevin Boss go, replacing them internally with undrafted free agents Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard.
Change to 2011:
They added Prince Amukamara in the first round of the draft but he played in only seven games, making zero starts. The biggest change on defense was the maturation of Jason Pierre-Paul into one of the best players in the game (72 tackles, 21 assists, 16.5 sacks, 7 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles.)
The biggest change on offense was seeing Cruz explode for 1,536 yards, while Nicks remained a solid number one starter in his own respect. Ballard finished with 38 catches, 604 yards, and 4 TDs, better than what Boss had done the year before.
The instant reaction from seeing individual improvements like that is that of course the Giants were better, but they finished the season at 9-7, one win worse than 2010. They lost four games in a row in the middle in the season and when they were at 6-6, it seemed all hope was lost. Luckily, they still had two games remaining against the Cowboys over their final four and the Eagles had already dug their own grave.
The Giants beat Dallas 37-34 in Dallas and then 31-14 in the division-deciding week 17 game and managed to secure a home game in the playoffs.
Overall, the Giants might have actually been a better "team" in 2010, but huge individual performances from Cruz, Nicks, Eli Manning, and Pierre-Paul, helped catapult them into the playoffs when it mattered and then they did what every Super Bowl champion does: Get hot at the right time.
The Giants improved internally at several key positions in 2011 but were mostly the same team that they were in 2010, just with better results when it mattered.
2010 Green Bay Packers
2010 Record: 10-6
2009 Record: 11-5
The Packers got off to a rough start in 2009, finishing the first half at 4-4 with a pair of losses to the "Brett Favre Vikings," a team that went 12-4 and lost in the NFC Championship game to the Super Bowl champion Saints. But the Packers also rallied to make the playoffs in 2009 after going 7-1 in the second half and winning a wild card berth.
Green Bay then went to Arizona and lost a ridiculous shootout to the Cardinals, rallying from down 31-10 in the second half to force overtime until losing on a fumble returned for a touchdown. The Packers season was over but there were signs that they were perhaps the best team in the NFC at that point, with a possible exception to the Saints. Despite their 4-4 start, the Packers were 2nd in the NFL in margin of victory (to the Saints) and came very close to advancing in the playoffs but fell flat to start against Arizona and lost it in overtime.
What they had started to see in 2009: Aaron Rodgers made his first Pro Bowl and was clearly developing into one of the games best. Clay Matthews registered ten sacks as a rookie. Nick Collins made his second straight Pro Bowl after recording six interceptions. The Packers had serious momentum going into 2010 after their strong finish and felt perhaps like they had something to prove after their first round loss to Arizona, an inferior team.
Changes to 2010:
The Packers drafted tackle Bryan Bulaga in the first round and James Starks in the sixth. After Ryan Grant (1,200+ yards in 2009) was lost to injury for the year, the addition of Starks proved very valuable in the playoffs. They promoted LB Desmond Bishop to starter and after spending most of his time at ROLB in 2009, Matthews was moved around to different positions in different situations in 2010 and ended up elevating his game to First Team All-Pro, finishing second in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting.
While Drivers production was cut in half and Jermichael Finley played in only five games, Rodgers spread the ball around to James Jones and Jordy Nelson more and the Packers finished 10th in scoring.
Green Bay was 8-6 towards the end of the season, and then like the Giants, got hot at the right time. They finished 10-6, won the wild card over those Giants we talked about earlier, and won road games against the Eagles, Falcons, and Bears before beating the Steelers in the Super Bowl.
The Packers might have actually had better numbers in 2009, but they won the Super Bowl in 2010 by not having a disaster playoff game like they did against the Cardinals the year before.
2009 New Orleans Saints
2009 Record: 13-3
2008 Record: 8-8
The 2008 Saints were the highest scoring team in the league but an absolute mess on defense. They finished 1st in scoring but 26th in scoring defense, 10th in scoring differential (+4.4) and 22nd in Turnover Differential (-.2/g).
New Orleans was all over the place in 2008 and could never string together any wins. They won back-to-back games in weeks 11 and 12, but never had back-to-back wins at any other point in the season. They were 7-6 at one point before a 27-24 overtime loss to the Bears and then lost 33-31 in week 17 to the 12-4 Panthers. (The Panthers were 12-4 in 2008!)
If they had won those games, they would have still made the playoffs and then who knows what would have happened but the 9-6-1 Philadelphia Eagles snagged the last wild card and actually won two playoff games before a 32-25 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. But back to the Saints...
The Saints offense was already in tact as the best in the NFL but their 8-8 finish actually put them in fourth place in their conference. Their off-season changes and the change of chance would be the difference the next year.
Changes to 2009:
The Saints finished 20th in turnovers recovered in 2008, and so luck wouldn't have it that they'd be making the playoffs that year. They would make their own luck by signing 34-year-old Darren Sharper and starting him at free safety. Sharper had nine interceptions in 2009 (the Saints had 15 as a team the year before) and all of a sudden New Orleans went from 22nd in Turnover Differential to 3rd.
Their offense was still first in the NFL. Their defense still gave up 21.3 points per game. But by forcing turnovers and keeping the ball in the hands of the best QB in the NFL that season, they were first in scoring differential at +10.6 points per game.
The Saints started the season 13-0 and then lost their last three games but they crushed the Cardinals, squeezed by the Vikings and then beat the Colts 31-17 in the Super Bowl.
New Orleans already had half of their Super Bowl team in place in 2008 but they needed a little more luck on a defense that was always going to be prone to giving up more points because of the fast-paced Saints offense. But by adding Sharper and getting the ball to swing their way more often than not, the Saints became a dominant team for most of 2009.
Wrap It Up, Duddy
So that's all we'll go through today. The last three teams to win a Super Bowl and what they did the year before. I think it's interesting that the Giants and Packers might have actually been "better teams" the year before, but maybe that helped them come into the playoffs the next season with a chip on their shoulders. Remember that the Packers went 15-1 this season and then lost their first playoff game and the Saints traveled to Seattle the year after winning the Super Bowl and got a surprise.
There's probably something to be said for why teams have such a hard time winning back-to-back Super Bowls these days, though I'm sure many people will still be picking the Giants to win 11 or 12 games this year and maybe repeat.
What does it mean for the Seahawks? Well, they certainly can't lose one more game than they did in 2011 and expect to go to the playoffs at 6-10. They'll have to go the Saints route of going from 8-8 and then popping all the way up to 13-3 when Sharper decided to come in and snatch nine interceptions. Of course, nobody can expect that. The Saints were an elite offense that needed something magical to happen on defense and it did. Do the Seahawks have an elite defensive unit that just needs the offense to improve a little bit?
Well, they certainly need to improve on offense and probably find luck on their good side with injuries and hope that one of the quarterbacks steps up to be above-average to good. Seattle was 7-9, as you know, but should want to improve by three games at least, even if 9-7 does get you into the playoffs sometimes.
That's really the key. Getting into the playoffs. As we've seen, anything can happen when there's only one game in front of you. Rather than looking at the perspective that a team needs to win three or four games in the postseason to win a Super Bowl, all they really have to do is win the next game. The Giants have done that twice since 2007. The Packers did it in 2010. The Steelers (grinds teeth) did it in 2005. Just make the playoffs, no matter how you make the playoffs.
It's also a matter of looking at internal personal growth and not necessarily an impact rookie or free agent as the source for getting better from year to year. The Giants saw Pierre-Paul become a beast in his second year. The Packers saw Matthews become a beast in his second year. Last season we saw Earl Thomas perhaps become a beast in his second year, just without the playoffs and a Super Bowl attached.
We should be looking towards the advancement of players like Richard Sherman, Russell Okung, Doug Baldwin, Kris Durham, Golden Tate, K.J. Wright and Brandon Browner and also hope that the rookies are more NFL-ready than most rookies.
Super Bowl? I'm not going to predict that, certainly a long shot as seen in the eyes of many. But playoffs? I could definitely see that at this junction, and when you get to the playoffs, anything goes.