Over the past five seasons (2017 to 2021), the Seattle Seahawks are a combined 12-19 during the regular season versus teams that made the playoffs that year. That equates to a winning percentage of .387.
Here is the full breakdown:
- 2017: 2-4 (.333)
- 2018: 2-4 (.333)
- 2019: 3-3 (.500)
- 2020: 2-2 (.500)
- 2021: 3-6 (.333)
“Woof, woof,” right? I mean that’s pretty damn embarrassing, isn’t it? Never over .500 and only winning one-third of the marquee games in three of the five seasons ...
But ... What if I told you that was the 7th-best record in the league over the past 5 seasons?
(I’ll wait while some of you pick your jaws up off the floor.)
The New England Patriots (15-13, 0.536) are the only other NFL team over .500 during that span.
Then come our beloved - and recently-beleaguered - Seahawks with their “abysmal” 0.387 winning percentage and “lackluster” 12-19 record.
The other team that we 12s love to hate (the one in Santa Clara) is a fraction back at 0.382 (13-2) while our kid brothers in Glendale, AZ come in just outside the top-10 at #11 overall (11-20, 0.355).
Note: The full list is in the “Bonus Coverage” section at the end of this article.
An unpleasant truth
When you crunch the numbers, as I have done, you find some interesting things that you might not have expected. Among them:
- There aren’t a lot of teams each season that end up with winning records against teams that make the playoffs; and
- There are a decent number of teams that make the playoffs despite having sub-.500 records against their fellow postseason participants during the regular season.
Let’s start with some raw numbers ...
There have been 64 playoff teams over the past 5 seasons - 32 per conference; 6 per from 2017-2019; 7 per the last 2 years.
Over those 5 seasons, only 28 teams finished the regular season with a winning record against teams that made the playoffs that year. Two of the 28 failed to make the playoffs: the Carolina Panthers in 2018 and the L.A. Chargers this year (more on both of them later).
From 2017-2021, a total of 19 teams posted a .500 record against playoff teams during the regular season. Fifteen of them made the playoffs.
That leaves us with 23 playoff spots over the past 5 seasons that went to teams that had a losing record against their playoff brethren during the regular season.
Granted, that’s 23 out of 113 since 113 is the number of team-seasons that resulted in a losing record against playoff-caliber competition the past 5 years.
But 23 is still a much bigger number than I expected, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that finds it surprising.
In 2017, only 5 teams finished the regular season with winning records against playoff teams. All 5 made the playoffs. As did 4 of the 5 teams that finished at .500 ... leaving us with 3 playoff teams that had losing records in the regular season (versus their fellow playoff teams).
In 2018, 4 of the 5 teams that finished above .500 against playoff teams made the playoffs, with the lone exception being the Carolina Panthers who offset their 4-2 record vs. playoff teams with a 3-7 record versus non-playoff teams and watched the playoffs from home.
Two teams finished at .500 that year; both made the playoffs. As did six teams with losing (regular season) records versus playoff teams.
In 2019, only 4 teams finished above .500 (all 4 made the playoffs) and 5 teams finished at .500 (4 made the playoffs; the Indianapolis Colts missed out). Math tells us that the other 4 playoff teams that year had losing records versus their playoff brethren during the regular season.
In 2020, there were seven teams that finished the regular season with more wins than losses versus playoff teams. All 7 made the playoffs. Four teams finished at .500 and 3 of them made the playoffs. But with 2 “extra” playoff spots (7 per conference instead of 6), that still left four teams with losing records vs. playoff teams that made it into the postseason.
This year saw another 7 teams finished with winning records against playoff teams. Unfortunately, only six of them made the playoffs. The Los Angeles Chargers were the exception and, oh boy, was that freaking heartbreaking (for them) or what?
Three teams finished the 2021 season at .500 and two of them made the playoffs (sorry, New Orleans). As was the case in 2018, six teams with sub-.500 regular season records versus playoff teams ended up making the playoffs.
And one of them, the FTRs, happens to be hosting the NFC Championship game today, with a chance to be the second team to hoist the Lombardi trophy on their home field if things go there way. (Blech!)
Interestingly, there was at least one team with a lone regular season win against their fellow playoff participants from 2017 to 2020 - the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017; the Baltimore Ravens in 2018; the Minnesota Vikings and the Buffalo Bills in 2019; and the Chicago Bears in 2020. This year, the Eagles chuckled and said, “Hold my beer,” on their way to earning the NFC’s 7th-seed this season, despite an 0-6 record against their playoff peers.
Anything can happen in the playoffs
I get grief any time I trot out that line.
But it’s true.
Last year’s Super Bowl Champion, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, were 1-5 (0.167) against playoff teams during the 2020 regular season - and they’re 24th league-wide over the past 5 seasons with a combined (regular season) record of 8-24 (0.250) against teams that made the playoffs.
But they’re 5-1 in the playoffs over that span, after going 4-0 last year and 1-1 this year.
How about the Chiefs the year they won the Super Bowl (2019)?
I mentioned earlier that they (and the Saints) have the best regular season record versus playoff teams over the past 5 years, but they were 3-3 (0.500) against playoff teams in the regular season in 2019 (before going 3-0 in the playoffs) - and they were 4-6 the two years before that.
The Patriots were 4-0 against playoff teams during the 2018 regular season, en route to their 2,700th Lombardi trophy, but were a mere 7-5 against teams that missed the playoffs.
Which is something I’ll touch on later.
In 2017, the Philadelphia Eagles went 13-3 with a 2-1 regular season record against playoff teams and an 11-2 record against teams that missed the playoffs.
Exception, meet rule.
They’re 6-20 against playoff teams (in the regular season) since then.
Random thought: Only in Philly would the backup QB get a statue outside the stadium while the (then) franchise QB does not.
Separating wheat from chaff
So, if success in the regular season versus teams that make the playoffs isn’t the end-all-be-all of NFL differentiators, what is?
As it turns out ...
Beating the teams you’re “supposed” to beat.
What can I say?
Sometimes clichés are clichés because they’re TRUE.
Here is the won-loss record (and win percentage) for the worst playoff team (by this metric) each of the past five seasons:
- 2017: 7-5 (0.583); Tennessee Titans
- 2018: 7-5 (0.583); New England Patriots
- 2019: 7-4 (0.636); Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles
- 2020: 6-5 (0.545); Washington (soon-to-be-Commanders?)
- 2021: 6-5 (0.545); Cincinnati Bengals
Notice anything? Yep, me too.
NFL teams can make the playoffs with losing records versus their fellow playoff participants.
Hell, they can even win the Super Bowl (as Tampa Bay did last year).
But if you don’t handle your business against the league’s non-playoff teams ... you got no chance.
For the record ...
The Seahawks are 37-13 against non-playoff teams the last five years which is good for 9th-best league-wide during that span. (See “Bonus Coverage” for the full list.)
Here’s the year-by-year breakdown:
- 2017: 7-3 (0.700)
- 2018: 8-2 (0.800)
- 2019: 8-2 (0.800)
- 2020: 10-2 (0.833)
- 2021: 4-4 (0.500)
Probably not a surprise that they missed the playoffs on their two worst seasons (by this metric) or that their absolute worst season during this span came in a year in which Russell Wilson landed on IR for the first time in his career.
For those that like lists and data ....
Overall record, 2017-2021
Overall record vs. teams that made the postseason, 2017-2021
Overall record vs. NON-playoff teams, 2017-2021