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Elevated Expectations: When making the playoffs stops being good enough

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Wild Card Round - Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Many of you are aware that I am a big Portland Trail Blazers fan. If you follow the NBA you’ll know that the Blazers crashed out of the first-round of the playoffs in six games against the division rival Denver Nuggets, who were missing their 2nd best player Jamal Murray and two key backups. Portland was basically at full strength minus their backup power forward/center who didn’t even play during the season.

Even though the Blazers have the longest active postseason streak in the NBA at eight, the really sour end to 2020-21 resulted in head coach Terry Stotts’ firing — they said “parted ways” but you’re smarter than that.

I bring this up because the Blazers and Seattle Seahawks are both owned by Vulcan Inc, with Jody Allen taking control of the teams following the passing of her brother Paul. They may be separate entities — that didn’t stop Paul from giving Bob Whitsitt roles on both teams — but I think there’s something worth monitoring. Last month there was a report from The Athletic about Allen’s involvement on the Blazers side and how Stotts was on the hot seat, a mere two years removed from making the Western Conference Finals (which earned him a contract extension).

Trail Blazers' owner, Jody Allen, has been more critical of HC Terry Stotts, this season

Sam Amick of The Athletic tells us Trail Blazers' owner, Jody Allen, has been more critical of HC Terry Stotts, this season #RipCity

Posted by 1080 The FAN on Thursday, May 6, 2021

Just a few months ago, the Seahawks had a pretty catastrophic exit against the division rival Los Angeles Rams at home. Other than the little Russell Wilson offseason drama that might have been a tad overblown, the only major departure was Brian Schottenheimer. Pete Carroll and John Schneider received extensions that keeps them under contract for several years to come.

In a moment of scary similarity, both the Blazers and Seahawks have made the playoffs in 8 of the 9 seasons they’ve had their respective superstars: Damian Lillard and Russell Wilson. Unlike Lillard, Wilson has a championship and has also had the great fortune of playing with several in their prime Pro Bowlers/All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers. Portland has drafted, signed, and traded for a grand total of zero future All-Stars or All-NBA honors players since they took Lillard.

Neil Olshey is definitely not the NBA’s answer to John Schneider.

Anyway, I’m making a long, meandering point but the focus of this article is in part to quell some of the rather reckless speculation concerning Jody Allen that I’ve seen in our comments sections and on Twitter far too much lately. But the other part is something that is relevant to us as Seahawks fans, and that’s the expectations of a team that has a superstar at an important position.

It goes without saying that achieving great success in the NFL is vastly different than in the NBA or other North American sports leagues. The NBA has far less parity, more super teams, more player empowerment to force their way out, more “one guy can win a game by himself” just by basic numbers, more room for error in the regular season and playoffs, worse officiating, etc. But in any sport there are goals that are set and if they aren’t met then serious shake-ups are inevitable.

The Blazers probably didn’t have visions of being favorites to win the NBA Finals but the lack of deep playoff runs reached its tipping point. It almost happened in 2018 when Paul Allen nearly fired Stotts after getting swept by New Orleans. Overachieving in the early years of Lillard turned into underachieving in Dame’s prime years and ownership wasn’t satisfied anymore with just making the postseason.

On the Seahawks side, we’ve had our own “rut” relatively speaking. In fairly quick time Carroll and Schneider turned a talent-depraved roster into a Super Bowl contender and ultimately a champion (nearly a repeat champion). But over the past six seasons the team has just three playoff wins to its name — two of them to Teddy Bridgewater and a semi-retired Josh McCown by a riveting combined score of 27-18. They haven’t led for one second of either of their last two playoff games, a jarring stat with Russell Wilson at quarterback.

Carroll and Schneider delivered a title early and have developed a consistent winning franchise with a sterling reputation for great team culture. That’s good enough reason to justify their continued employment even with the lack of recent playoff success. When your worst season since 2012 is 9-7 and narrowly missing the last wild card spot, you’re doing pretty well for yourself.

The question for Seahawks fans and for upper management is how much longer will this current holding pattern of playoff berths and early exits be tolerated?

Seattle has played the fourth-most playoff games since 2015 yet rank 20th in win percentage. In virtually every game the offense has struggled to score and/or put together a complete performance, while the defense has only generated two takeaways. Wilson has become a better passer and overall quarterback through these years, while the overall roster has simultaneously experienced a quantifiable decline from its lofty heights.

I touched upon this before back in February that if history is a guide, it’s highly unlikely that the Carroll/Wilson partnership will ever get back to a Super Bowl, but it’s certainly not impossible. To me it’s a bit impractical to measure success exclusively off of “win a title/didn’t win the title” binary outcomes. I don’t consider it a letdown to reach two Super Bowls and win one over the course of a decade. It’s a fairer assessment if you ask yourself whether the Seahawks have made the most out of their past six seasons with the strength of their roster and the caliber of their quarterback. In other words, is it a failure of the organization that a near-perennial pick to go to the big game has not made one NFC Championship Game since 2014 and haven’t been all that close?

Seattle is “win now” mode and the Jamal Adams trade made that abundantly clear. They aced part one by capturing the NFC West for the first time since 2016, then uh... you know what happened after that. Your mileage may vary on how successful a season 2020 proved to be.

Which is what makes the 2021 season so critical. Wilson is here to stay for now, Carroll is still the coach, but if two playoff wins is once again too much to ask, then the alarm bells will be ringing and the calls for regime change will be louder than ever before. Missing the playoffs with a healthy Wilson and a largely healthy team would put Seattle on the precipice of DEFCON 1.

The bar gets raised when high-level success is sustained, and at some point consistent postseason appearances don’t cut it anymore when the appearances are akin to cameos than starring roles.

T-minus 98 days until we find out whether the Seahawks can once again reach the deepest parts of January football. If not, then it isn’t inconceivable to think that our own Portland Trail Blazers moment may occur next offseason.