Well, I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a tad unexpected.
There was a time when the Seattle Seahawks were 6-4 and the Arizona Cardinals were 9-1. They had to make up three games and the San Francisco 49ers were also 6-4. Many of the Power Rankings, which are nothing if not the end-all, be-all of what matters in sports, had the Seahawks behind both the Cardinals and 49ers. Some had the Cards number one. Anyone who looked at anything beyond record should have known that Arizona probably wasn't one of the best five teams in the league could see a potential collapse coming.
But still, there were three games to make up, and they had to also overcome San Francisco in the process.
Consider that rivalry processed.
Seattle first had to beat the Cardinals in Week 12. They allowed three points.
They then had to, no excuses, beat the 49ers in Santa Clara on Thanksgiving. They allowed three points.
Now a date on the other coast against the 9-3 Philadelphia Eagles. Don't lose momentum now! They allowed 14 points -- one of the touchdowns after a mishandled punt, and the Eagles had one drive go longer than 25 yards (it was 54 yards) -- and scored 24.
The win over San Francisco would be for nothing if they lost at home. They allowed seven points.
And their win over Arizona would be meaningless because if they lost this one, the division would belong to the Cardinals! They allowed six points.
Finally, with the number one seed in their reach, they could drop their bye week opportunity if the squirmy Rams pulled out another upset. They allowed six points.
The Seahawks allowed 39 points over a six-game stretch and every win was necessary. This is absolutely, utterly, ridiculous. There have been 37 instances of a team giving up 39 or more points in a single game, and Seattle defense is off-the-toilet (shitting on everything.)
Now what's left to clean up? Here's the playoff preview edition of The Lookaround, to see what's going down in Footballtown.
G-g-g-green Bay almost saw a g-g-g-g-ghost when Aaron Rodgers went down holding his leg on a non-contact play against the Lions in the second quarter, but thankfully only had to endure one pass attempt from Matt Flynn before Rodgers returned. The fact that they won shows how good Rodgers really is, but the fact that we all knew their season would be over if he was seriously hurt shows how vulnerable they are.
The Packers came into this week 13th in defense for DVOA, ninth against the pass and 20th against the run. Their defense is okay, but really survives by forcing turnovers: They had at least one takeaway in 15 of 16 games. Despite two obvious mistakes against the Rams, no team protects the football better than the Seahawks do. Green Bay is 5-4 when they turn the ball over, and Seattle did manage to force on turnover in their 36-16 win over the Packers in Week 1.
Green Bay's defense also isn't good enough to save it's offense. They were 0-3 when held under 20 points. ICYMI: The Seahawks haven't allowed 20 points since November 16. Since before you saw your grandma for Thanksgiving.
We'll miss you, Nana.
It was key for the Seahawks to get homefield advantage over the Packers: Seattle is 7-1 at home, 24-2 in the last three seasons, and Green Bay is 4-4 on the road this year. They were 8-0 at home.
The other thing they won't tell you about Mike McCarthy is that outside of his 4-0 run to the Super Bowl in 2010, he is 2-5 in the playoffs. They have struggled as the favorite and stepped up as the underdog. Certainly if the NFC title game happens to be Seahawks-Packers, they'll play the part of "underdog" and say that "no one believed in us!" but that potential game would be about so much more than favorites.
This is three seasons in the making and we all know where it started.
Well, only two teams have beaten the Seahawks in Seattle since they drafted Russell Wilson, and one of those teams is the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys came a butthair from losing, but they won fair and square. However, they are far from "elite."
The only playoff teams they beat this season were those Seahawks and then the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16. They did blowout the Colts, 42-7, but Indy is pretty terrible. They also lost by 11 to the 49ers, by 3 to the Redskins, by 11 to the Cardinals, and by 23 to the Eagles. Perhaps their most impressive feat was going 8-0 on the road, and so homefield advantage wasn't really gonna be their "thing" if they got it.
It could instead mean that the Detroit Lions have a shot when they travel to Dallas next week.
The Cowboys great weakness is their defense, which was 23rd in DVOA going into the final game. They even allowed 336 passing yards and 8.2 yards per attempt to Robert Griffin III on Sunday, who was so long forgotten that I thought he perished in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
It's pointless to talk about Dallas's record when they turned the ball over because they turn the ball over all the time. They had at least one turnover in 14 of 16 games, but they survived because they have at least one takeaway in 15 straight games.
If you can protect the football against the Cowboys, you'll probably be alright: They forced one or fewer turnovers in all four of their losses.
Antonio Romiro Romo's playoff record through nine full seasons, in case you forgot, is 1-3. This has been his best career season in large part due to the fact that he's averaging his fewest attempts per game since his first season. Force him to throw and mistakes will eventually happen.
His last playoff game was awhile ago: He lost to Brett Favre.
The Panthers went 62 days without a win this season, but none of that stuff matters anymore; they've won four in a row, including a 34-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Their record isn't good (7-8-1) but the roster is still talented:
Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, Jonathan Stewart, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, and Charles Johnson as the headliners. This is mostly the same team that went 12-4 and had the number two seed a year ago. Flip their tie into a win, and change their 4-point loss and 2-point loss into wins, and all of a sudden you're looking at a 10-6 team.
And now they're possibly facing Ryan Lindley in the playoffs, against a team that has lost four of it's last six games.
All that being said, of course the Panthers are terrible.
That have six losses by 18 or more points, including blowout losses to the Saints, Eagles, and Vikings. They're not a two-dimensional offense, they're barely even a one-dimensional offense. Benjamin caught a highly-inefficient 50% of his targets for less than 14 yards-per-catch. He and Olsen both just barely crossed the 1000-yard mark this year, but that is sincerely the end-of-the-line as far as "weapons" go for Carolina.
Jerricho Cotchery went over 60 yards just once this year (high was 80) and Stewart rushed for 809 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. The Panthers scored 34 points this week in large part due to the fact that Matt Ryan threw more touchdown passes for Carolina than Newton did.
I also haven't made it a secret that I think Newton is overrated, and not that good.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this year's playoffs is that either the Panthers or Cardinals are going to reach the divisional round.
5. Arizona Cardinals
You know these guys pretty well.
Lindley actually spent a large part of the day on Sunday looking like not-the-worst-quarterback-in-the-league, and had Arizona up 17-13, but then the real Ryan Lindley kicked in. He finished the day 23-of-39 for 316 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He was averaging just 4.4 yards per attempt and had no touchdowns on his first 225 career attempts, but part of his success is due to some questionable coverage by San Francisco in Jim Harbaugh's final game.
Still, Harbaugh mutually-parted-ways on top(?) with a 20-17 win. Even if the dam didn't break open for Seattle, the Seahawks would have won the division. But they also would have been preparing for the Lions this week instead of getting an extra seven days of rest.
In two weeks, the Seahawks are going to end up playing either Carolina, Arizona, or Detroit. They are 3-0 against those first two teams, but the Cards are also the other team to beat Pete Carroll in Seattle. Anything could happen, but Arizona's late season collapse is like a really premature version of Peyton Manning's Super Bowl safety.
6. Detroit Lions
The last time the Lions won in Green Bay, The Cosby Show was on TV, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show, and Bill Clinton was campaigning to be president. They lost again to the Packers in Lambeau, this time by a score of 30-20, and killing their last-chance hopes to prove this year is going to be different.
I don't know, maybe it still will be.
They had won four straight, they have two legitimate receivers, the number one defense in DVOA, second in scoring defense, first in rushing defense, and a number of great young players on defense. Why can't this be Detroit's year? Because they really haven't given us any reason to believe it is.
That's a 1-4 record against playoff teams and a 4-4 record on the road. They now go to a Dallas in a game that could end up being really close since the Lions don't have much of an offense (no weapons besides Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate) and the Cowboys don't have much of a defense and aren't that great at home. If they do win, their reward is a trip to Seattle.
Nice if you wanna catch a fish, not so nice if you wanna catch a football.
- The Broncos and Patriots locked up their bye weeks in the AFC. (New England already had a week earlier) I remember a time not so long ago when Denver, New England, Green Bay, and Seattle were considered the "four elite" NFL teams. It all comes full circle.
- But I have sort of turned around on the Broncos. They didn't beat a single team this season ranked in the top eight of DVOA. There were 22 teams that had at least one such win, but Denver wasn't one of them. They got a ton of wins against the middle -- Kansas City twice, San Diego twice, Miami, Indianapolis -- but fell flat against the Seahawks, Patriots, Bengals, and ... Rams.
I could definitely see Manning pick up his 13th career postseason loss. (Against 11 postseason wins.)
- Harbaugh is leaving San Francisco for sure, and leaving them for Michigan for allegedly. They didn't want to fire him because they didn't want to pay him, they didn't want to trade him because that's just a lot of paper work for Trent Baalke, and he didn't want to quit and have that hanging over him while he worked on a deal with Michigan or some NFL team. So they just - re-fire-signed?
The potential candidates to replace him is a very long list and includes Seattle-centric names like Darrell Bevell, Dan Quinn, and Mike Holmgren. There's also the Lions' Teryl Austin, who used to coach for Holmgren in Seattle. The bye week means that Bevell and Quinn could potentially take meetings, but a long playoff run would most likely kill their chances of getting a head coaching job for next season.
I have a hard time believing anyone who says they know which of those guys are the right choice. There are definitely names that scare me less than others. (Hi Jim Mora, how ya been?)
The Seahawks-49ers rivalry was already on life support and we were headed to the courts to battle over it's right to live, but the loss of Harbaugh makes it even deader. I'll be honest and say I was hoping he would stay, because Seattle already proved they could beat Harbaugh, and he made things more interesting. But if they hired Quinn?
Beep ... Beep ... Beep ...
That's a heartbeat.