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We should’ve expected a sluggish Seahawks season opener

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks might have been a 9.5 point favorite over the Cincinnati Bengals, but not only did they not cover the spread, they never even led by more than four points. Of course, a 21-20 win sounds a hell of a lot better than a loss of any kind, and I’d dread to think how we’d be reacting if they actually did fail to beat what was projected to be a bottom-dwelling Bengals side.

But the Seahawks stumbling out of the gates on opening day is nothing new in the Pete Carroll era. When Week 1 of the regular season rolls around, Seattle normally yields two results:

—A very shaky, frustratingly close win:

2013: 12-7 at Carolina Panthers
2016: 12-10 vs. Miami Dolphins
2019: 21-20 vs. Cincinnati Bengals

—A very shaky, frustratingly close loss:

2011: 33-17 at San Francisco 49ers
2012: 20-16 at Arizona Cardinals
2015: 34-31 (OT) at St. Louis Rams
2017: 17-9 at Green Bay Packers
2018: 27-24 at Denver Broncos

The exceptions to the rule came in 2010, when Matt Hasselbeck overcame a literal first-play interception to guide the Seahawks to a 31-6 thumping of the San Francisco 49ers, and the 36-16 rout of the Green Bay Packers to open the 2014 season.

You may be wondering why I included the 2011 game vs. the 49ers as a “close” loss despite the 33-17 scoreline. For those who may not remember, the Seahawks clawed their way back from 16-0 down to make it 19-17 with 3:55 to go and two timeouts. All they needed to do was hold the 49ers to a short drive and they’d get the ball back with a chance to pull off an unlikely win. Instead, Ted Ginn returned two kicks for touchdowns in less than a minute, and the 49ers offense didn’t even run another actual play outside of victory formation.

As for those three wins, all of them required game-winning 4th quarter touchdowns from Russell Wilson. This was actually the first time since 2014 that Wilson did not have a Week 1 turnover, so consider that improvement from previous seasons.

Pete Carroll is very much a believer in “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” This explains the Seahawks’ reputation of storming into the postseason on a hot streak after an uninspiring September-October, as well as Russell Wilson’s own sparkling reputation as one of the league’s great 4th quarter quarterbacks. It’s not to say that Carroll doesn’t put any value in September — Seattle is still undefeated for the entire 2010s in September home games — but the evidence is overwhelming that they do not play anywhere near their best overall football in the opening month.

While the defense has been better than not right out of the gate, Seattle’s Week 1 offense has been consistently poor under Carroll. Their expected points added (EPA) has been in the negatives in seven of ten seasons (including five consecutive years with Wilson). Isolating the numbers to Wilson, he’s cumulatively 168/259 for 1662 yards (6.4 YPA), 11 TDs, 5 INTs, and 4 lost fumbles. Hardly terrible numbers but even the eight-game sample size is not exactly Wilson’s best work. Compare that with his numbers for Game 12, which is usually Seattle’s first December game, and Wilson turns into a freak.

It’s certainly not lost on me that a lot of the Seahawks’ Week 1 woes are attributed to playing primarily on the road. They’ve only had four Week 1 home games this entire decade, and they haven’t won a Week 1 road game since 2006. In the Carroll era, they are a particularly awful 1-8 in road openers regardless of week, which historically bodes poorly for their chances of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday.

So yes, it’s all a bit frustrating that year after year consists of the Seahawks do not look like Super Bowl contenders from opening kickoff. There’s much anticipation in the air and then they come out and get booed for trailing the Bengals 17-14 in the third quarter because Wilson keeps getting sacked. Just remember that if this year’s team is like Seahawks teams from years past, they’ll turn up the heat fairly soon. What we do hope is that if they’re going to have early-season struggles, they’ll still be good enough to get wins like we saw against Cincinnati last weekend.