I think if the last few years have taught us anything, it's that there's no reason to panic when the Seattle Seahawks get off to a slow start. At least, not as much panic as when they get off to a horrible finish, but let's focus on the macro instead of the micro today.
In 2012, they were 6-5 before winning their last five games of the year in blowout fashion. In their Super Bowl-winning 2013 season, the Seahawks were pretty much the best team wire-to-wire and nobody is going to argue that they're playing as good now as they did then. But in 2014, Seattle was 6-4 after a loss to the Chiefs and people who believed they would repeat were much harder to find than they were before the season.
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And yet they finished just one play short of doing just that.
So are things actually worse now than they were in 2012 and 2014 or is there a storm coming that will carry the Seahawks right back to the playoffs (and the NFC West title)? I believe that it is.
Here are eight reasons why I think that.
Homie does play that
The Seahawks homefield advantage is well-documented, but just a reminder: They are 28-3 at home in the Wilson era. That includes, of course, a loss earlier this season. That doesn't change the fact that a .900 winning percentage over a three year period, including playoffs, is pretty damn impressive.
Five of Seattle's final eight games are at home, including three crucial division games. If they only won their home games, that would be a 9-7 record. Meaning they would just need to win either at Minny, at Balty, or at Ariy(?), to get to 10-6. Two wins and they're at 11-5. I don't think it's a stretch to believe that they could be 11-4 heading into their Week 17 matchup in Arizona, playing for the NFC West.
If you assume an 11-4 record for the Seahawks, that means the Cards lost to them, giving them at least three losses. Their schedule after that is: Bengals, at 49ers, at Rams, Vikings, at Eagles, Packers.
Is there a chance that any team gets through that stretch at 6-0? You could be looking at Arizona being 11-4, 10-5, or maybe even 9-6 headed into the finale. That would obviously give Seattle a lot more wiggle room if they lose at Baltimore or at home to the Steelers or something.
But I don't think they'll need it.
Lazy Sunday, wake up in the late afternoon
Under Wilson's care, the Seahawks are 6-9 in early games and 34-7 during all other times. That's a pretty significant difference. Well, most of the early games are out of the way except for one 10 AM game in Minnesota in Week 13. Not that an early game against the Vikings isn't a little dreadful, but I remain adamant that they are perhaps the most overrated team in the NFL.
What does Minnesota actually do well?
First of all, Teddy Bridgewater is one of the least productive quarterbacks in the league, and he would be even more so if Stefon Diggs hadn't come along. "But Diggs did come along!" you say, and that's true, but Seattle also has one of the best corners in the game and he's been shadowing top receivers this season when needed. Take Diggs out of the gameplan for the Vikings and they're left with Mike Wallace (37 YPG) and Kyle Rudolph (22 YPG).
Minnesota must then rely on Adrian Peterson, nothing new, but the Seahawks have one of the better run defenses around: ninth in yards allowed, sixth in yards per carry.
I wouldn't be surprised if the outcome is similar to the one in Dallas, but I think there's a much better chance that Seattle wins by 10 than the Vikings winning by 10.
Every other game remaining starts at either 1 or 5, approximately. A 34-7 record is an .830 winning percentage.
"Open. Open. Open." (For those of us that remember that commercial)
Seattle is 7-6 in dome or retractable roof stadiums since 2012 and 33-10 in open roof stadiums.
Well, they have five home games (open), TCF Bank (open), M&T Bank (open) and University of Phoenix (retractable). So the next seven games are in open roof stadiums, followed by the game in Arizona. The Seahawks won in Arizona last season, 35-6. The year before that, they won 34-22. And the year before that, they lost 20-16, in Wilson's first career start.
So since Wilson's first career start, he's had two relatively easy victories in Arizona.
Russell Wilson is a second half player
Over his career, Wilson is 22-4 in November and December with 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In the first two months of the season, he is 18-12 with 44 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. He's rushed for six touchdowns in December, compared to five rushing touchdowns in the other three months combined.
Wilson's first eight games this year have been hit-or-miss it seems, but I think that this will be the season that when he hits his second half stride he will have more talent at his disposal than ever before.
Waiting for injured players to come back is all well and fine, but of course as some come in there's always the possibility that others will go out. But since we can't predict the future since I lost that amulet, let's focus on who is coming.
In all likelihood, Paul Richardson will make his 2015 debut on Sunday. Richardson will likely play a very small part to begin with, but as Jon Gruden would say, "Now here's a guy" that was a second round pick. A guy that had 15 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown in the four games before his injury. Adding a number three, or even a number four if that's what the case may be, receiver to this offense is no small deal.
The number four receiver until now has been Ricardo Lockette, who had four catches for 69 yards. Now they've got Richardson filling that role and probably taking some targets from the other guys as the season goes on.
But as Danny O'Neil told us on the podcast last week, Richardson's return is likely not as important as Jeremy Lane's, who returned to practice this week. It might be a stretch to see Lane on the field as soon as Sunday, but his return from what must be the unluckiest play for anyone returning an interception in Super Bowl history could be coming soon.
Not only could Lane be a great nickel corner, but he can move to the outside if needed. Lane's return would be a significant upgrade over Marcus Burley and DeShawn Shead.
Pete Carroll said that just about everyone else on the injury report should be good to go, including Russell Okung, Luke Willson, and Cliff Avril. That means that the biggest names that are out for the year are Tharold Simon and Lockette.
More-flex zone, hopefully
It's not necessarily common, or even fair, to say that a sign for hope in the future is that your team is doing something really bad, but I'm going to anyway. The Seahawks are the worst red zone team in the NFL. That's not good, but let's face it: That's way worse than it should be.
Carroll emphasized that they want to leave that red zone nonsense "in the first half" and turn it around to be a positive in the final eight games. They've scored more touchdowns outside of the red zone than inside of it. That seems like something that is not sustainable, and since they're so focused on fixing that problem (and I believe that they will based on Carroll's midseason adjustments over the last three years) I believe that they will.
If you take a 4-4 team that lost two games in OT, lost three games to teams that are 6-2, 8-0, 8-0, a team that had a fourth quarter lead in all four games, and then you say "They're going to go from 32nd in red zone offense to 16th in red zone offense," then you should have a pretty damn good team. A team not unlike the one that's gone to the last two Super Bowls.
Up until their loss earlier this season to the Packers on Sunday Night Football, the Seahawks had been a pretty dominating team on primetime and on national television. That includes a 6-2 playoff record, a 4-1 record on Thursday night, a 5-0 record on Monday night, and a 5-1 record on Sunday night. Overall, 20-4 on primetime/national television over the last three-plus seasons.
Well, Seattle still has two Sunday night games left on the schedule -- this week against the Cardinals, Week 14 at Baltimore. Now you may be saying to yourself, "They'll probably flex something else into that Ravens timeslot" and you may be right, but the Seahawks still have two potentially huge games after that which could be flexed: the Rams in Week 16 and at Arizona in Week 17.
Seattle is still one of the biggest audience draws in the NFL this season, so it shouldn't be too hard to see them on Sunday night again after this week.
Come out to the quad for streaking
What would a 10-game winning streak really mean for the Seahawks in the Pete Carroll era? Well, it wouldn't mean that anything that unusual is happening.
Seattle won six straight games in 2012, and eight out of nine overall from Week 9 to the wild card round.
Seattle won seven straight games in 2013, including 10 of their first 11 overall.
Seattle won eight straight games in 2014, including 11 of 12 games from Week 8 to the NFC Championship.
If anything, they're due for a nine-game streak headed into the season finale, which hopefully turns out to be a 10-game streak instead, which turns out to be a 13-game winning streak actually.
12-4 gets the Seahawks the division. 11-5 probably does too though.
You know, I was watching the World Series of Poker final table this week, as cool dudes tend to do, and commentator/poker pro Antonio Esfandiari said, "You don't get this far without getting extremely lucky, delivering some bad beats, and sucking out a few times." (I paraphrase)
("Sucking out" = to be a 2% favorite or so in a hand and getting the only card in the deck that will give you the win)
I think that's true of the NFL too. There are hierarchies of talent, preparation, and coaching, but at the end of the day all you're really trying to do is give yourself the best chance. There aren't any guarantees or anything close to a guarantee. The best team rarely wins the Super Bowl. You have to "suck out" a few wins along the way to put yourself in a position to win the Super Bowl. The Seahawks have been delivered some bad beats, dating all the way back to the Super Bowl when Lane got hurt, Avril got hurt, Tom Brady led the comeback, and they fell one-yard shy of victory.
But everything in the universe seems to balance itself out eventually. Maybe those suck-outs were a balancing act for Seattle coming away with so many close wins in the previous couple years, but maybe not. Eight games left to go, the Seahawks now have their best chance all season to reel off a few wins in a row.
Maybe even 10+.