12 years ago, the Seattle Seahawks were banished out of their home for a quarter-century: The AFC West. Any Twelves in their 30s (or older) grew up hating the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, having night terrors about John Elway and the Denver Broncos, wishing for better luck at Arrowhead, and not all that worried about the San Diego Chargers. The move to the NFC West in 2002 was an exemplar of Seattle's NFL irrelevance: They were the only team to move conferences, in part because they weren't part of the "Old AFL club" in the AFC West. Seattle's NFL history, tradition, and rivalries were expendable. At that moment, the Hawks had not yet moved into Seahawks Stadium, and were only five years removed from nearly moving to Los Angeles. They hadn't won a playoff game since 1984, and had only one playoff appearance since 1988. The Seahawks? Who cared where they got shunted to?
While many of us elder Twelves pined for the old AFC West rivalries, they Seahawks got busy dominating their new division. In the 13 seasons they've competed in the NFC West, they've won the division seven times. They've also won more games than the Cardinals, 49ers or Rams in that time and made more playoff appearances than anyone else in the division.
Not only are the Seahawks in the midst of a stretch of divisional dominance, their rivals are busy flailing about in desperation. Santa Clara just took a step backward by jettisoning their brilliant but insufferable head coach, and Arizona and St. Louis have built elite defenses while utterly neglecting the most important position in football: Quarterback. Yesterday the Rams rolled into Seattle hoping to derail the Hawks' advance towards XLIX, but as they have so many times before, they failed.
Sure, they led for a half. Sure, the game was still tied going into the 4th quarter. But the conclusion of Seahawks games have become as rote and predictable as the 3rd act of Marvel films (Seriously... The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy have the SAME DAMN ENDING). In EVERY game of Seattle's season-ending winning streak, a competitive contest at halftime was sculpted into a double-digit Seahawks triumph. In every game, the enemy was pushed, pressed and pummeled by a stronger, tougher Seattle side until they broke.
Yesterday against St. Louis, three 4th-quarter takeaways by the Legion of Boom sealed the division crown and home field advantage for the Seahawks: First, Jordan Hill's acrobatic interception of a panicked Shaun Hill throwaway attempt to set up the go-ahead Marshawn Lynch touchdown. Next, Bobby Wagner jarred the ball loose from Lance Kendricks and Bruce Irvin snatched it out of the air and sprinted 49 yards for his 2nd touchdown of the season. Finally, Earl Thomas' otherworldly forced fumble to snuff out St. Louis' last realistic hope for victory (gif'd for your amusement at the top of this post). It's time for us to have a serious conversation among Twelves: Is Earl Thomas the best defender in franchise history? It might seem blasphemous to put him above Cortez Kennedy and Kenny Easley, but even if he's not there yet his trajectory to the Ring of Honor, #29 hanging from the Seahawks Stadium rafters, and the Hall of Fame is obvious and seemingly inevitable.
Zooming out to look at the defense as a unit, they are making a serious case that they are the greatest defensive unit in the history of the sport. In an era where scoring is at an all-time high, Seattle's D is doing things not seen since the heyday of Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain in the 1970s. For the third year in a row, they led the league in scoring defense. They led the league in total defense for the 2nd year in a row. They have only allowed THREE touchdowns in their last six games. They haven't allowed a SINGLE 4th-quarter point during the current winning streak. The Legion of Boom? They are the Mantis Shrimp of the NFL: Beautiful to watch and apocalyptically lethal. It's hard to see how even Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady will be able to prevail against a defense of such historically anomalous power.
Maybe they'd be able to win a low scoring slugfest? Perhaps, but Seattle will batter them with the NFL's best rushing offense and flummox them with the game's most unpredictable, improvisational quarterback. One of the most encouraging recent developments in Seattle is the emergence of rookie WR Paul Richardson, who had 5 catches for 60 yards (including an impressive 32-yard snag to set up a field goal). My gut feeling? Preach might be ready to make the kind of impact in the postseason that Percy Harvin had in XLVIII (without all the surliness and team-mate punching).
Now the Seahawks get two weeks to rest up for either Arizona, Charlotte or Detroit. The Hawks will likely be healthier than they've been since September, and primed for a 3-game rampage into the pantheon of professional sports dynasties. The dominance of their division has been demonstrated once again, and the next month will be a demonstration of their mastery over the entire sport.
What do you think, sirs?