November 18, 2014

The Bag of Skittles is (More Than) Half Full

"They're too battered by injuries."

"The schedule is too difficult."

"They're torn apart by internal dissension."

"The Seahawks are done."

The chatter from the national football press and within the Twelve Army is becoming Borg-like in its unanimity. This wisdom has become conventional: The post-Super Bowl hangover has hit Seattle HARD, and now they're a long-shot to even make it to the playoffs. Facing a gauntlet of division rivals and playoff-bound foes over the final six weeks, the Hawks are likely to join the sad litany of Super Bowl Champions who failed to even defend their title in the following postseason.

I'll let Arnold Schwarzenegger speak for me on this one:

Maybe the problem is that I look at this from a fundamentally different perspective than most other Twelves (or the football press in general)? Obviously, if you're comparing this team to last year's, there's a discernable drop-off. Free agent losses, injuries and "Blowing Percy Harvin out the airlock President Roslin-style" have severely tested Seattle's depth. The defense has dropped out of the top 10 in terms points per game, and takeaways and sacks have also dropped precipitously. While the offense is still putting up 26 points per game, and the Hawks have cobbled together the NFL's best rushing attack, the lack of a vertical threat and the decline of Russell Wilson's passing efficiency has left Seattle offensively one-dimensional. We've seen the biggest decline in performance (compared to 2013) from our special teams. Indeed, one of Seattle's four losses is DIRECTLY attributable to special teams breakdowns (@ STL). 

The question is... What conclusions do you draw from that evidence? 

For example, on Sunday we suffered what felt like our 173rd excruciating defeat at Arrowhead, in which a valiant team effort was undercut by yet another injury (this time to Max Unger) and offensive play-calling that was at best questionable. Seattle won the turnover battle, won time of possession, and outgained the Chiefs, but still lost. For the 4th time this season, the Seahawks lost a game they had a chance to win or tie within the last five minutes. They're not closing out games like they did last year, right? Super Bowl Hangover!!! Hell, maybe it's the awful wrath of the Madden Curse. OR.... 

Those losses were to legitimate Super Bowl contenders (Chiefs, Cowboys), a playoff darkhorse with a winning record (Chargers) and to a team that also bested the Broncos and Niners (Rams). The Hawks have been in the Top 5 of the ELO and DVOA rankings all season, and those advanced statistical measures are probably more accurate descriptions of reality than the dominant "Seahawks are hung over, squabbling and doomed" narrative. The Hawks are 2-4 in "coin flip" games this season. The good news about coin flips? They're not fated to automatically go AGAINST you indefinitely into the future. 

Let's talk about that "dissension" part of the conventional wisdom. Buried in an article ostensibly about the deep rifts in the Seahawks locker room, was this quote from 2014 team MVP Marshawn Lynch: 

"I don't think there's any problem with what we've got going on," he said. "We've just gotta let it fall and keep fighting. We've got a lot of ball to go. These are challenges for us. That's one thing we have been good at, facing the challenges. I think it can be accomplished."

When asked if the Seahawks were a "championship team," Lynch became animated.

"Is this a championship team? Yeah, yeah, we've got the heart of a champion," he said. "When you've got players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor -- you're about to make me name the whole damn roster -- and there's some young guys whose names a lot of people don't know who bring a lot of fight. I always look at the best of our team. So ... hell yeah. I would have to be a fool to say no."

The internet is ABLAZE with stories about how Marshawn Lynch is a malcontent, but it's telling that the above quote was tucked away at the bottom of an article about Beast Mode being "frustrated." Maybe I'm hopelessly myopic, but it's hard for me to look at Lynch and see anything but one of the most intense, most valuable players to EVER wear a Seattle uniform (in any sport, frankly). If he still believes, why shouldn't we? 

That schedule is daunting, though, right? I'm sure everyone already knows that Seattle has the toughest remaining schedule in the league. Let's take a closer look. Arizona at home? There's a reason we're 6.5 point favorites, and it's not just because Vegas LOVES us. The Cardinals have ridiculously over-performed so far this season, and they are FAR overdue for a "market correction," particularly with Drew Stanton under center. At Santa Clara? They've already lost to Chicago and St. Louis in their new digs, so there's no reason to assume Seattle couldn't leave victorious as well. At Philadelphia? Seattle benefits from a rare late kickoff on the East Coast, and once again facing a back-up QB (in Mark Sanchez). The last three games are within the NFC West (Santa Clara, @ Arizona, St. Louis), and are likely to be... you guessed it... "Coin-flip" games. By then, we'll almost certainly have Unger and Bobby Wagner back on the field, though. My gut feeling is that the Seahawks will need to beat the Rams in Week 17 to make the playoffs, and that one will be a classic "triple barf bag" affair.

Pete Carroll has been in charge for 4+ seasons now, and we've never seen his Seahawks give less than maximum effort. They are mentally tough enough to fight their way into the postseason tournament, and we don't have to delve into antiquity to find precedents for Seattle riding a hot streak into the playoffs. In 2012, they started 6-4, but exploded through the finish line at 11-5. If this team can emulate that sort of performance, they'd likely draw a game at the sub-.500 NFC South Champs in the Wild Card round. After that? Maybe a 3rd matchup with Arizona in the divisional round. It's not delusional to see a path back to the NFC Championship for these Seahawks, and with recent NFL history LITTERED with 11-5 (or worse) Super Bowl winners, why can't this Seattle team go forth and do likewise? 

What we've seen from this team in recent years suggests that they've still got some surprises in store for us. Barreling into the playoffs on a hot streak seems much more likely than the Hawks succumbing to a 7-9 death spiral, doesn't it? Maybe my expectations are too low. Maybe I'm just odd, but I'm energized by the situation we find ourselves in: Underdogs, with the football world rooting for us to fail. I didn't give up hope when we were 6-9 back in 2010. Why the fuck would I resign myself to doom and failure now? 

1 comment:

it's all in D Hans said...

Well said, Johnnie. Well said...