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Can the Seahawks afford another slow start in the playoffs?

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Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

At the end of the Seattle Seahawks’ 10-9 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the 2016 NFC Wild Card Game, head coach Pete Carroll finished his post-game locker room speech with a familiar refrain.

“Let me ask you a question: Can you win a game in the first quarter? Can you win the game in the second quarter? Can you win the game in the third quarter? Can you win a game in the fourth quarter?”

Of course, the Seahawks were down 9-0 entering the 4th quarter, scored ten unanswered to take the lead, then exulted after the now-unemployed Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal that would’ve won the game for Minnesota. It was one of those classic Seattle comebacks under Pete Carroll that we’ve grown accustomed to. The magic would promptly end the following week in Charlotte, where they dug themselves an incomprehensible 31-0 halftime deficit against the Carolina Panthers, with the near-heroic 2nd half comeback coming up short by a mere seven points.

Starting slowly has been a recurring postseason theme for the Seahawks with Russell Wilson at the helm. As the table below shows, they’ve stumbled out of the gate quite frequently.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Opponents in the 1st Half (2013-2016)

Opponent Date 1st qtr score (SEA-OPP) 1st qtr deficit Halftime score (SEA-OPP) Halftime deficit Length of time Seattle was in front
Opponent Date 1st qtr score (SEA-OPP) 1st qtr deficit Halftime score (SEA-OPP) Halftime deficit Length of time Seattle was in front
@ Washington 1/6/2013 0 - 14 -14 13 - 14 -1 0:00
@ Atlanta 1/13/2013 0 - 10 -10 0 - 20 -20 0:00
vs. New Orleans 1/11/2014 6 - 0 6 16 - 0 16 25:19
vs. San Francisco 1/19/2014 0 - 3 -3 3 - 10 -7 0:00
(N) vs. Denver 2/2/2014 8 - 0 8 22 - 0 22 29:48
vs. Carolina 1/10/2015 7 - 0 7 14 - 10 4 13:06
vs. Green Bay 1/18/2015 0 - 13 -13 0 - 16 -16 0:00
(N) vs. New England 2/1/2015 0 - 0 0 14 - 14 0 0:00
@ Minnesota 1/10/2016 0 - 3 -3 0 - 3 -3 0:00
@ Carolina 1/17/2016 0 - 14 -14 0 - 31 -31 0:00
Total 1/6/2017 21 - 57 -36 82 - 118 -36 68:13 (out of 300:00)

In seven games out of ten, Seattle has been tied or behind for the duration of the first half. They were shutout in four games and held without a touchdown in five, including twice at home. They’ve scored only a single first quarter TD, compared to six for the opposition. On the plus side, at least the second quarter is even at 61-61, so that tells you where the damage is being done.

You may be wondering, “What’s the big deal? The Seahawks are a second half team!” And you’d be historically correct! They’ve outscored their playoff foes by a combined 176-73, including five games of scoring 20+. Only New England and New Orleans have outscored Seattle in the 2nd half, and of the six games in which they trailed at the half, they took the lead (but didn’t always go on to win) in five of them, all in the 4th quarter.

Believe it or not, the Seahawks have been a fairly solid first half team in the Wilson era, but the 2016 home/road split is staggering.

Seahawks 1st half home point totals (regular season only)

Year PPG scored (Home) Ranking PPG allowed (Home) Ranking Avg. point differential
Year PPG scored (Home) Ranking PPG allowed (Home) Ranking Avg. point differential
2012 16.6 03rd 7.6 03rd 9
2013 13.8 07th 6.8 03rd 7
2014 11.8 17th 8.2 06th 3.6
2015 11.2 17th 10.4 14th 0.8
2016 15.9 05th 7.1 03rd 8.8

Seahawks 1st half away point totals (regular season only)

Year PPG scored (Away) Ranking PPG allowed (Away) Ranking Avg. point differential
Year PPG scored (Away) Ranking PPG allowed (Away) Ranking Avg. point differential
2012 10.9 16th 9.2 03rd 1.7
2013 12.4 06th 9.5 04th 2.9
2014 11.2 11th 9.8 06th 1.4
2015 14.4 04th 6 02nd 8.4
2016 9.6 18th 11.9 13th -2.3

The 18-point deficit vs. Green Bay somewhat skews the data for 2016 road games, but Seattle also hasn’t once led by double digits at halftime on the road, so that’s worth taking into consideration.

Now for the flip side of this, which is the meat of this column. For as much as we love and laud the Seahawks as a second half team, they’ve been pretty “meh” in that department this year. Here are the point differential totals (regular season only) from 2012-2016:

2012: +31
2013: +107
2014: +100
2015: +72
2016: +10

The problem is accentuated when you look at how poorly they rank in 2nd half scoring this season, especially when compared to the previous four:

Seahawks in the 2nd half (regular season only)

Year Points per game (offense) Ranking Points per game (defense) Ranking Point differential
Year Points per game (offense) Ranking Points per game (defense) Ranking Point differential
2012 11.6 14th 6.9 01st 4.7
2013 12.6 13th 6.3 01st 6.3
2014 12.8 10th 6.9 01st 5.9
2015 13.6 05th 8.8 02nd 4.8
2016 9.2 26th 8.6 06th 0.6

As you can see, the second half struggles this year are almost squarely on the shoulders of the offense (with full acknowledgement of Russell Wilson’s injury problems). Seattle is the lowest scoring second half team to make the playoffs (although immediately ahead of them are the New York Giants), and on the road they are a staggeringly inept 31st (5.9 points per game), with a league-worst three (!) touchdowns scored. It took until November 20th (vs. Philadelphia) to register a 3rd quarter touchdown in any game.

To get to some good news as it pertains to Saturday’s wild card game against the Detroit Lions, the Seahawks have been a very good first half team at CenturyLink Field (the Arizona game notwithstanding), while the Lions’ average first half point differential on the road is -2.3, and an even uglier -10.6 in their three outdoor games (all losses). Even with the less-than-stellar play from Seattle in the past month, I’d be stunned if they fell flat on their faces and let Detroit get off to a fast start.

Should the Seahawks win on Saturday night, then their next game will be at Atlanta, who lead the NFL with a ridiculous 18.5 points per game in the first half, including a league-high 21.9 at home. Something tells me that if this Seattle team falls behind 20-0 at halftime to the 2016 Falcons, there will be no furious rally to take a 28-27 lead in the final minute of the 4th quarter. For the Seahawks to make a serious run at the Super Bowl, it is imperative for them not to repeat postseasons’ past and put themselves in even a moderately deep hole, because this year’s team just doesn’t have an offense trustworthy enough (especially on the road) to string scoring drives together and claw its way back.