By this time, most Seattle football fans are aware that the Seahawks will play one of three teams — the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints — in their National Football Conference playoff opener next weekend.
A surprising number of Seahawk followers are hoping that the arch-rival 49ers will come to CenturyLink Field on Saturday, which would happen if they beat Green Bay and the Saints lose at Philadelphia. They should be careful what they wish for.
To cut to the chase, I believe the Hawks will make it to the Super Bowl and possibly win it.
They possess the NFL’s best defense, an offense that doesn’t turn it over much, and exceptional special teams. They’re a good second-half team that doesn’t usually fold under pressure. By registering the best conference’s best record, they won’t be forced to leave the friendly confines of their home field until Super Sunday next month.
Nevertheless, I can visualize a scenario in which Seattle’s Super Bowl express is derailed prior to reaching its ultimate destination in East Rutherford, N.J., the potentially misbegotten site for the big game.
It’s hard to imagine Seattle losing a 42-41 shootout to anyone. A more plausible occurrence would be dropping a low-scoring game to a team that also possesses a strong defense, is playing well at the time and can capitalize on Seahawk mistakes.
Two NFC clubs fit that description: San Francisco and Carolina.
Green Bay, with its banged-up defense, would appear to be Seattle’s most beatable potential foe. New Orleans boasts an explosive attack and an improved defense. But the Saints aren’t a good road team and, at least from my perspective, appeared to be rattled playing in front of the frenzied CenturyLink throng during a Monday night game last month that ended in a 34-7 Seattle victory.
The 49ers have also been blown out in their last two Seattle visits. They are, however, a veteran club with a good road record otherwise.
The Niners weren’t playing well early in the season, when they fell at Seattle, 29-3. But they’ll take a six-game winning streak into Sunday’s playoff opener at Green Bay.
The joker in Seattle’s playoff deck is its penchant for devastating penalties. The Seahawks were the NFL’s most penalized club during the regular season.
Some Seattle fans, heavily into conspiracy theories, have taken that as an indication that pro football’s hierarchy doesn’t want the small-market Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Like most such theories, this one doesn’t hold water. Coach Pete Carroll’s teams, even at decidedly large-market USC, have always played to the edge of the rules in terms of aggressiveness. Although Carroll has given lip service to cutting down on the team’s infractions, he isn’t about to tamper with a winning style at this stage.
When the late Bill Doyle coached successful Aberdeen girls basketball teams in the late 1990s, visiting coaches to Sam Benn Gym would express incredulity that his clubs could play full-court pressure defense without committing many fouls. The implication was the Bobcats were the beneficiaries of home cooking.
Yet when the Cats played the same teams in the Olympia or Centralia-Chehalis area, they invariably also shot more free throws than the opposition. When such a pattern develops in games called by different officiating crews, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s the players, not the refs, who are responsible.
Some football followers may wonder how it’s possible that Seattle and San Francisco, who boast two of the top three records in the NFC, could conceivably meet in the second round of the playoffs. Blame the NFL’s goofy method of seeding playoff qualifiers.
While the top two teams in each conference earn first-round byes, division champions vault ahead of wild-card teams in the playoff pecking order. Green Bay, with a regular-season record of 8-7-1, is thus the NFC’s fourth seed, while 12-4 San Francisco is seeded fifth.
The Seahawks benefited from that formula in 2011, when Marshawn Lynch’s epic tackle-breaking touchdown run helped them beat a New Orleans club with a far superior record in a playoff game that was controversially staged in Seattle. That doesn’t make it right.
There’s a certain degree of logic in rewarding all division champions with a first-round home game. But the playoffs should be reseeded following that round to give the top teams more favorable draws.
By hosting the lowest remaining seed, the Seahawks are more likely to face San Francisco or 11-5 New Orleans next week than the Packers. And the 10-6 Philadelphia Eagles, who came within an eyelash of being knocked out of the playoffs altogether, could actually host the NFC championship game if the Hawks and Carolina stumble next week.
That’s not a conspiracy, just dumb.