March 12, 2014

Ranking The Squads #1: 2013 (With Updated All-Time Rankings)

Five years ago, I decided to rank every team that the Seahawks have ever fielded, and I've updated it annually since then. The first time I updated the list, I had to add the worst team in Seahawks history. Today, just half a decade later, the list includes the greatest football team of the 21st century. Here's one last look back at the magnificent 2013 Seahawks...

1. 2013
Record: 13-3
Offensive Rank: 8th out of 32 teams
Defensive Rank: 1st out of 32
Turnover Ratio Rank: 1st out of 32
Team Co-MVPs: Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor
High Point: Seahawks 43. Broncos 8
Low Point: Cardinals 17, Seahawks 10

December 22, 2013. I'll always remember that day. I'll never forget how I felt. Something died that day, and it can never be resurrected. The Seahawks were favored to beat the Arizona Cardinals and clinch the NFC West and Home Field Advantage in the playoffs with two weeks remaining in the season. Seattle was undefeated at home, and had blown out the Cardinals in Glendale a few weeks earlier. December 22, 2013 was supposed to be a coronation.

The Seahawks lost. The best defense in football blew a late 4th-quarter lead, and Arizona pulled off a stunning 17-10 upset. The rational part of my mind KNEW that this was almost certainly just a minor setback. These things often happened to Championship teams, Any Given Sunday, blah blah blah. In the rest of my skull, the red lights were flashing and the air raid sirens were howling. Thirty years of bitter experience told me to prepare for the worst. The '84 Hawks had HFA in their grasp before dropping their last two games of the season. The '99 Hawks started 8-2, only to collapse down the stretch, back into the playoffs, and get bounced by an elderly version of Dan Marino. My psyche looked like the subject of one of those execrable reality shows about hoarders, but instead of old newspapers and plastic bags, it was filled with countless memories of Seahawks disappointment. Here's the 2003 pick-six in OT against the Packers. There's Vinny Testaverde's Phantom Touchdown. Oh! I just found the 1988 playoff loss at Cincinnati! There's the 2006 OT playoff loss at Chicago hidden under a pile of Steve Hutchinson's poison pills! Super Bowl XL shrapnel? That's scattered everywhere. How would the 2013 Hawks add to this awful menagerie of misery?

Maybe they'd lose to a Rams team they BARELY beat a few weeks earlier, and tumble all the way into a Wild Card game in Green Bay. Nope. They left no doubt in a 27-9 victory.

Ah! Maybe it would be in a playoff rematch against New Orleans, who boasted an explosive offense, a Hall-Of-Fame quarterback, and ample motivation after a Monday Night blowout loss at Seattle in early December. Nope. Seattle's defense shut out the Saints for three quarters, and the Hawks held on for a 23-15 win.

Most of the football-watching nation and media bobbleheads were sure the collapse would happen against the mighty defending NFC-Champion 49ers, who had defeated Seattle a month earlier in their dilapidated, crumbling excuse for a stadium. You know what happened... Wilson to Kearse on 4th-and-7, and then "The Tip." The greatest game in Seahawks history was capped by the greatest play in franchise lore. The Seahawks were headed to New York for Super Bowl XLVIII.

Perhaps the Seahawks were waiting to torment their fans in the cruelest manner possible: With another excruciating Super Bowl defeat. The Broncos boasted the reigning NFL MVP in Peyton Manning and the highest scoring offense in NFL history. Most of America was rooting for Denver. Las Vegas favored the Broncos. Seattle's dreams of their first championship in any of the four major North American pro sports since the Carter Administration would surely be dashed again, right? The vast majority of the game's 112 million American viewers were STUNNED by what they witnessed. The Seahawks delivered a 1980s-throwback Super blowout of the Denver Broncos, who were so completely overmatched that Seattle's defense singlehandedly outscored them 9-8. Russell Wilson hoisted the Lombardi Trophy skyward, in a blizzard of blue and green confetti. Precedent was irrelevant to this team. Now, they were immortal, and things will never be the same for this franchise. We didn't know it at the time, but December 22, 2013 was the last gasp of Seahawks mediocrity. It was the death rattle of disappointment.

The men on the 2013 roster will always be fondly remembered by the Twelve Army, but it seems only appropriate that the team MVP award is split three ways between Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. They were the core of the best defense the NFL has seen in over a decade. Thomas and Chancellor anchored the best single-game defensive performance of all time in Super Bowl XLVIII, and Sherman's tip to Malcolm Smith in the NFC Championship Game is our equivalent to "The Catch" by Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship Game- The play that gave birth to an NFL dynasty.

Beyond the Legion of Boom, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril led a ferocious Seattle pass rush, while Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith helmed a suffocating rush defense. In four short years, John Schnieder and Pete Carroll completely tore down a Seattle D that was 26th in scoring defense when they arrived and built a unit worthy of comparisons to the '85 Bears, '00 Ravens and '02 Buccaneers.

Seattle also boasted the best special teams unit in football. Steven Hauschka was the NFL's most reliable kicker in 2013, and the Hawks' punt and kick coverage units operated at near-record setting levels (thanks in no small part to the efforts of punter Jon Ryan). Golden Tate was one of the league's most electrifying punt returners, and Percy Harvin proved he is still a lethal weapon as a kick returner in extremely limited action.

The offense was somewhat overshadowed by that historically dominant defense, but they were still brutally efficient and effective (they scored 26 points per game, which was 8th best in the NFL). Russell Wilson avoided any whiff of a sophomore slump, racking up a passer rating of 101.2 and accounting for 27 total touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch exploded for 1573 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns- Once all the Skittles have fallen from the sky, he'll be remembered as the best running back in Seahawks history. Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin. Jermaine Kearse and Sidney Rice (pre-injury) all made significant (and essential) contributions at WR despite playing on the most run-oriented offense in football. Zach Miller and rookie Luke Willson made an impact at tight end that wasn't always obvious on the stat sheet, and Seattle's offensive line recovered from a shaky period in midseason to become one of the best overall O-line units in football by season's end.

Seattle's run-first, defense-oriented style is in many ways a throwback to an earlier era, as was their path to pro football's pinnacle. While Schneider and Carroll made many savvy moves in free agency, this championship team was primarily built through the draft with home-grown talent. Recent NFL history is filled with champions who sneaked into the playoffs as a lower seed, got hot, and snagged a Lombardi Trophy. The 2013 Seahawks were the product of a slow and steady progress from frailty to dominance over four long seasons, and when they finally got their championship opportunity they seized it with zeal and brutality. They seem poised to create something else we haven't seen in the NFL for a while: A dynasty that can be spoken of in the same breath as the '00s Patriots, the '90s Cowboys and the '80s 49ers.

My mind is uncluttered now. All the garbage of failure and disappointment has been hauled to my mental landfill. Just in time, too- I'm gonna need room in there for a shitload of banners and trophies.

What do you think, sirs? What are gonna be YOUR enduring memories of the 2013 Seahawks?

For your entertainment: Here's the updated ranking of every team in franchise history- Enjoy!
1. 2013
2. 2005
3. 1984
4. 1983
5. 2012
6. 2007
7. 1986
8. 2003
9. 2006
10. 1988
11. 1987
12. 2010
13. 1979
14. 1990
15. 1978
16. 2001
17. 1999
18. 2004
19. 1998
20. 1985
21. 1997
22. 1995
23. 2011
24. 2002
25. 1991
26. 1996
27. 1989
28. 1982
29. 1977
30. 1981
31. 1993
32. 1994
33. 2000
34. 2008
35. 1980
36. 1976
37. 1992
38. 2009