The Seattle Seahawks are probably not going to the playoffs, which is a disappointment after a 6-3 start. That they’re not near the level of the San Francisco 49ers shouldn’t be taken as some unthinkable shock, but more discouraging is the distinct possibility that the Los Angeles Rams could get into the postseason with a roster nowhere near the level of the team that lifted the Lombardi Trophy two seasons ago.
When the subject of Pete Carroll’s future in Seattle is brought up, a common point made in favor of keeping Carroll is the historical success he’s brought to the franchise. On the surface, it’s undeniably true! Two Super Bowl appearances, a first Super Bowl win, nearly perennial winning records, and no consecutive years without a playoff berth. This is all superior to most of the rest of the NFL, let alone Carroll’s coaching predecessors. I mean, who would ever think in March of 2022 that there would be palpable dismay that Seattle could miss the playoffs with Geno Smith at quarterback?
But this is a “What have you done for me lately?” world we live in, and the recent results are not only lesser than Carroll’s early years, they’re nowhere near the second-best in the NFC West.
The pivotal point in the Carroll era occurred in 2017. Sean McVay got hired by the Los Angeles Rams, while Kyle Shanahan got the San Francisco 49ers in the same offseason. The Legion of Boom would eventually dissolve on the field later that year, and the Seahawks would miss the postseason despite a 9-7 record.
We’re in year seven of the McVay/Shanahan/Carroll trio coaching their respective teams, and the difference in success is glaring. Let’s work on the assumption that the 49ers and Rams both make the playoffs and the Seahawks miss out, which at this point seems more likely than not.
San Francisco 49ers
4 playoff appearances
3 NFC West titles
6 playoff wins
3 NFC Championship appearances (1 championship)
1 Super Bowl runner-up
Los Angeles Rams
5 playoff appearances
3 NFC West titles
7 playoff wins
2 NFC Championships
1 Super Bowl win
1 Super Bowl runner-up
4 playoff appearances
1 NFC West title
1 playoff win
Even if the Rams don’t get in, it’s not like those stats still aren’t demonstrably better than Seattle.
Of course, the 49ers bottomed out after Jim Harbaugh left and were terrible from 2015-2016, prompting the Shanahan hire. After a strong end to a rebuilding 2017 squad, the 49ers sought to be a competitive, playoff-caliber team in 2018. It’s forgotten that San Francisco was a projected playoff hopeful before Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3, so they didn’t get Nick Bosa just ‘cuz they were in the mood to tank one more time. The only time they’ve missed the playoffs since then was 2020, when they were one of the most injured teams of the entire 21st century. San Francisco is arguably the best team in the NFL and a favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
The Rams didn’t make the playoffs from 2005-2016, so they had a whole lot of suffering whether in St. Louis or Los Angeles. Their “all-in” approach under GM Les Snead cost them a lot of first-round picks and significant salary cap strain, but guess what? They won the Super Bowl. Yes, they were awful last year, but they were similarly one of the most injured teams in the NFL. Even after significantly retooling the roster, the Rams are 6-6 and have a favorable enough schedule to not be nearly as embarrassing as they were projected to be. Maybe they’re on borrowed time given Matthew Stafford’s age and recent injuries, but they are not a terrible team.
Seattle has really never bottomed out under Carroll, although 2021 was pretty close when they were 3-8. We haven’t experienced rock-bottom awful football since Jim Mora’s ill-fated one-year stint. Perhaps in the “Win Forever” mantra, the Seahawks have generally looked to compete for championships, even in that 2018 season when they were projected to win only 7.5 games. They’ve had the most efficient passing stats of Russell Wilson’s career, an inspirational resurgence from Geno Smith, some of the best offenses in franchise history, and sunk (and continue to sink!) a stupid amount of draft capital in the post-LOB defense.
The results do not stack up to their divisional peers, much less other playoff and Super Bowl contenders.
From a head-to-head standpoint, Carroll has been crushed by McVay and the field is quickly tilting against him vs. Shanahan. McVay is 10-5 against the Seahawks and the Rams’ largest deficit was just 13 points, which they obviously erased a few weeks ago. Two of those Seahawks wins came last year with backup quarterbacks and no Aaron Donald, and Geno Smith still had to lead game-winning drives on each occasion. We’ve seen that even the worst McVay-led Rams teams still give the Seahawks trouble.
Shanahan is just 6-8 vs. Pete, but he started 2-8 and has taken the last four in generally non-competitive fashion. Four of Seattle’s wins over Shanahan’s 49ers were against Brian Hoyer, C.J. Beathard 2x, and Nick Mullens, and they actually lost one of the Beathard starts.
When the Rams and 49ers are actually good, the Seahawks are thoroughly outmatched. Pete is 7-1 against Shanahan and McVay when their teams finish below .500, and 6-15 when they’re .500 or better.
Sports are cyclical and that no one stays on top forever. The Seahawks were never going to always win the NFC West and forever be in title contention. New England Patriots fans are finding out the hard way that life can bring even the greatest giants back down to Earth. Carroll has “cheated” the system, in a way, by never having one of those 4-win clunkers where the reset button needs to be pressed. Usually you have to eat shit before it gets better, and even that’s not a guarantee of future success (i.e the post-Martz, pre-McVay Rams). On the other hand, the Kansas City Chiefs went from a fringe contender to a possible dynasty without ever having to tank a single season.
And so we reach the big question on Carroll. Is he capable of carving out a new path for real contention? Some of his draft picks suggest it’s possible, but the on-field product, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, does not inspire much confidence. His initial major successes were good enough to have the Seahawks as champions and championship-level contenders. The recent “successes” have mostly involved stumbling into the playoffs and getting summarily bounced by superior competition. Meanwhile, Carroll’s two chief rivals have experienced or are in the midst of experiencing highs the Seahawks haven’t touched in almost a decade, and quarterback play is not necessarily the primary reason.
Unless something shocking happens, Carroll is here to stay for at least another season. Pete’s done well to make sure the proverbial cupboard isn’t bare, but it’s clear that there are major deficiencies that have prevented Seattle from returning to greatness. For the time being, McVay and Shanahan have Pete and the Seahawks in their back pockets, and Seattle has no shot at contending until that changes.