Some things are both hyperbolic and lowkey true at the same time. For example: Thomas Rawls is the best player in the NFL.
The fries from In N Out are proof that you can have some major shit wrong with you and still be one of the greatest of all time— kennybeats (@kennybeats) December 11, 2016
Also, the Seattle Seahawks will enter the playoffs as the “scariest team” in the NFC.
It’s okay to be dissatisfied in the Seahawks’ 38-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday. I’m not going to tell you not to be. It was a horrible outing, and a margin unseen for more than five years. But I’m going to keep the same measured response to the Seahawks season that I have all year, and suggest the loss doesn’t say we (i.e., I or anyone) were overrating Seattle entering the game. I actually think the Seahawks played pretty well on offense—I’m not the first to point out they moved the ball regularly and outgained the Packers on the ground and overall, and won the time of possession, total first downs, and third down percentage (atypical for Seattle’s flops in 2016). They were just undone by quirky turnovers—totally bad turnovers that aren’t acts of luck or randomness but rather poor execution, certainly: poor throws or poor catches, yet still ones that most likely will not repeat at that frequency unless Russell Wilson has been seriously injured in the arm or brain. (Maybe he has. But he also looked dreadful at home against the Arizona Cardinals last year right before the best seven games of his life.)
Anyway, I’ve got no desire to defend Seattle’s primacy today because that would sound as stale and cloying as it would be unconvincing following a game like that. The Seahawks no longer lead the league in fewest points allowed after writing their biggest grant since that 39-32 Cardinals defeat. For the third straight game, their pass rush was moot—and this time there is no excuse that they were just playing contain, or any Streamable clips of effective pressure otherwise.
The Dallas Cowboys finally lost again, which should be good because it keeps the door open for the top seed but it actually makes the Seattle loss all that much more costly. Instead of one and a half games back with three to play, they now need Dallas to lose all its remaining contests plus hope the Detroit Lions or New York Giants (both now 9-4) don’t win out. The Lions play the Giants and Cowboys next, plus the Packers, so there is some combination of events that still helps the Seahawks—but there’s another order of operations that makes it hard for Seattle to even claim the second seed if the right things don’t go right. The NFC jumble guarantees these teams can’t all win, but it also mandates they can’t all lose either.
I’m still not panicking over the first round bye or Seattle’s playoff prospects just yet, but to demonstrate why it’s not just Seahawktimism I’ll put it this way: When Seattle wins its last three games handily (wait for it) and ends up 11-4-1 (as long foretold) it won’t signal any corrected flaws or heating up for playoff readiness. It will just mean, like last year, that the Seahawks took advantage down the stretch of some pitiful quarterbacks and hopeless teams. The Green Bay game, however misleading was its lopsidedness given the statistical output, offers with the right degree of circumspection a clearer pane (though not a doomsday prediction) of the defects on Seattle’s team than will the NFC West tune-up before the real competition resumes again.
And yet, the relentlessly overreacting pro football mediascape which treats every latest data point as a guaranteed playoff preview will surely view things otherwise. Get ready for the Seahawks to be proclaimed the dark horse favorite after it clubs the Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
As pointed out a month ago, these division foes have some of the worst offenses in the NFL. Entering last week, they were 32nd, 26th and 23rd in offensive DVOA. Yes the Rams defense has confounded Seattle’s offense for years now, but they’ve given up 117 points over the past three weeks. L.A. has lost eight of its last nine games, with the sole win coming 9-6 over the hapless New York Jets. Those same Jets beat the 49ers Sunday, but the 49ers are 1-12 and clearly not trying to win football games. After going up 14-0 four minutes after the opening kickoff, Chip Kelly so restrained Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco offense that they managed just three points the rest of the way and lost in overtime. The 49ers are after the draft position yall.
Arizona is a fairer match for the Seahawks, as we remember from the 75-minute collateral-extraction contest known around here as the Blood Draw. But the Cardinals are even more beat up than Seattle, while Carson Palmer is simultaneously aging rapidly and reverting to the profile of his younger, shaky mid-career self. Arizona has to visit the Seahawks after not beating anyone except for the 49ers on the road all year—in fact it only has one non-Jets, non-San Francisco win of any kind since week 2. If Seattle can beat the Rams Thursday, the Cardinals will have nothing on the line in week 16.
All this should appear to straighten out whatever went wrong with the Seahawks Sunday against the Packers: The poor opponents will fuel an upsurge in Seattle’s defensive efficiency, likely even bringing the points-against title back home, and the improved game states ought to repair the offense’s reputation the way the Carolina Panthers game temporarily did—assuming Wilson bounces back like he always has, hits open receivers and takes care of the ball.
Meanwhile, every other contender apart from the Atlanta Falcons has some serious roadblocks on the way to the playoffs: The Cowboys host the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week and the Lions afterward; the New England Patriots deals with the Baltimore Ravens tonight and the Denver Broncos next; the Kansas City Chiefs also have a showdown with the Broncos on a Christmas night lineup that includes the Ravens against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Falcons’s best player, Julio Jones, is also week-to-week with a turf toe injury that kept him out of the Los Angeles game—perhaps as a precaution but it is an ailment with a reliably unreliable recovery timetable.
The remaining texture of the NFL’s season has all the ingredients to give the Seahawks the appearance of momentum, and quite likely a home divisional game. By saying Seattle will be overrated by then I’m not discounting that Pete Carroll, Darrell Bevell, Kris Richard and the staff can make real adjustments to resolve the problems on display against Green Bay—but what this game can do for us interested observers is give us reason to be as critical of the praises the Seahawks meet on the doorstep to the postseason as we should be careful right now not to be too disturbed by the view from inside its crater.
There’s a reason a season with as few as 16 games is considered long. Three weeks ago, Seattle looked as good as any team in the league and poised to keep improving. Inconsistency is its own hobgoblin, indeed, and Earl Thomas is a high-leverage loss, but try to keep both today’s outlook and last month’s perspective in mind when filling out your playoffs brackets three weeks from now.