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Win-and-in (with some help)? The Seahawks have been here before

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks enter Week 18 with an 8-8 record, which would have meant a .500 season prior to the advent of the 17-game schedule. But this is 2023, and the Hawks can still put together a winning season if they beat the LA Rams on Sunday. As you are undoubtedly aware at this point, Seattle has to win this game to get into the playoffs, but they also need a Green Bay Packers loss to qualify. Many fans have had... feelings about the fact that the NFL flexed the Packers match-up with the Detroit Lions to Sunday night; more accurately, many are rightfully concerned that the outcome of Seattle’s game could influence the outcome of the Sunday night game, since a Seahawks win would mean elimination for the Lions regardless of if they beat the Packers or not. Sure, the Lions hate Aaron Rodgers and the Pack with a little more fervor than the average NFL team, so I don’t expect them to lay down in any scenario, but it certainly isn’t a great spot for the Seahawks to be in with the season on the line. But it also isn’t one that is entirely unfamiliar to them. As you may recall, the 2017 squad entered Week 17 with a 9-6 record and a playoff berth on the line — provided that the Carolina Panthers could beat the Atlanta Falcons. And we all know how that turned out.

In that particular case, both games kicked off at 1:25pm PST; but of course, this wouldn’t end up mattering, as the Seahawks lost to the 7-8 Arizona Cardinals 24-26, which was also ultimately irrelevant to the postseason since Atlanta handled Carolina. Leading up to this game, we had Russell Wilson saying he wouldn’t be paying attention, whereas Dusty Lane of Q13 Fox quoted K.J. Wright with this much more believable statement in an interview leading up to the game:

Somehow, it’s gonna get to us. The word spreads,” Wright said at the VMAC last week. “It’s gonna spread around. That’s natural and that’s gonna be the case, and so we’re definitely gonna find out, and whatever we find out, we’ve just gotta play ball still. It doesn’t matter.”

But it really didn’t matter; according to Pro Football Reference, the Cardinals had a 23-14 lead going into the 4th quarter, and despite Seattle outscoring Arizona 10-3 during this period of play, they would still go on to lose. The Panthers-Falcons game was much closer at this point. Leading into the final quarter, the Falcons only led by one score, 13-7. Whether or not the Seahawks were paying attention to this game was ultimately meaningless, as literally everything that needed to go right went wrong. But at least in this scenario, the game was meaningful for every team involved; the New Orleans Saints would win the NFC South with an 11-5 record, which gave them the 4-Seed over the 11-5 Panthers due to head-to-head record. With their victory, the Falcons positioned themselves for the 6-Seed, meaning that the NFC featured three NFC South teams in the playoffs. Which brings up the following question: how much does this motivation really matter?

I ask the previous question not from a statistical or analytical standpoint; I intend it more in the rhetorical sense. Honestly, I think the answer may be different for this 2022-23 team than it was for the 2017 one. The latter was Richard Sherman’s final season in Seattle, a season which ended with a ruptured Achilles tendon. It was also Kam Chancellor’s final year before injury forced him into retirement. Interestingly enough, this was also one of the last times I recall Sherman say anything positive about the Seahawks until recently.

Oh how things change. Or, as Homer Simpson once said, “sometimes people change and then quickly change back again,” as Richard Sherman has eased up on his criticism since Russ’s departure. Which brings me to my final point; I think this team is built differently than the 2017 team. Not just the roster — which is far more reliant on young/new talent than it is on established veterans — but in the emotional makeup of this team. On a pure talent level, the 2017 squad looked better on paper going into the season. But I would much rather watch Geno Smith and this scrappy group of over-performers make the playoffs than that dud of a team from ‘17 that precipitated the overhaul of the offense, as well as a massive identity change that saw a shift for the team at large... which ultimately led to that “Let Russ prepare food” era that is weirdly uncomfortable to think about now. Sure, this is just a gut feeling and I could be 100% wrong; but unlike when almost everybody predicted a Denver Broncos victory in Week 1, I think people are a little more hesitant to write this team off than they were in September. I know that I am.