Sunday’s night game was ugly. It was off-putting. There were bizarro special teams plays. It ruined your fantasy team’s chances. It made you long for Stoke City vs. Burnley as another viewing option. It was pure, uncut Seattle Seahawks football, injected directly into your system.
And it’s the reason they’re the odds-on favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Don’t take my word for it. Read the analytic gang at Football Outsiders. They’ve got the Seahawks as the second-best team overall in DVOA (Determined Value Over Average) rankings and third-best defensively. Aaron Schatz at FO has them with as slight favorites to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs, and calculates that they’ve got an 86.7 percent likelihood of making the postseason.
Seattle has typically struggled in first halves of the season under Pete Carroll, and it sure hasn’t been smooth sailing through six games thus far, but they’ve only had one real setback, losing to the Los Angeles Rams 9-3 in Week 2 in their home opener. Otherwise, they’ve managed to eke out home wins –deserved or not– over Miami and Atlanta and the tie on Sunday along with two convincing thumpings of San Francisco at home and the New York Jets on the road. It’s got them a two-game lead in the loss column over the Cardinals with nine to play and Arizona still has to come visit them and will have to win in all likelihood if anything is on the line.
The Seahawks defense managed the inconceivable in the game. They were on the field for an NFL-record 46:21 — somehow Chip Kelly wasn’t prominently involved — didn’t force a single turnover and yet somehow only allowed two field goals in five full quarters of “action.” It was the ultimate display of the cliche “bend but don’t break” defense, as they allowed 443 yards and 10-of-21 third-down conversions but stiffened up in the red zone.
Frank Clark and Cliff Avril were twin terrors off the edge, harrying Carson Palmer with four sacks combined, and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright were sensational, with 23 combined stops. David Johnson still managed 113 rushing yards, but it took him an absurd 33 carries to get them.
To be clear, there’s no denying that Arizona deserved to win the game. Seattle got the first of their two fourth-quarter field goals by virtue of a blocked punt and Wagner managed to distract Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro into a pair of misses on un-called illegal hurdles of the long-snapper. But even when Russell Wilson and the boys having a dry game offensively, they managed to find a way to hang in. By hook or by crook, they find a way to stay within a score of the opponent.
The challenge will be altogether different next week, as the Seahawks will visit the struggling, 2-4 New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in a game that promises to be more like the one they had two weeks ago against the Falcons — where Matt Ryan and Julio Jones had Richard Sherman screaming at his coaches and fortunate to not get called for what could’ve been a game-turning pass interference penalty.
The Saints offer Drew Brees, Mark Ingram and a fleet of speed merchants at receiver, but no noteworthy defenders to speak of. They’re ranked 29th defensively per DVOA, also 29th by conventional yards allowed per game, 27th in yards allowed per play and 32nd, also known as “DFL in the NFL” in points allowed per game. They’re allowing 32.5 points per contest so far, just shy of the historic pace of the 1981 Baltimore Colts, who allowed 533 points, or 33.3 per game. They’ve got a ways to go catch the 1966 New York Giants, who surrendered 501 points in a 14-game season.
The Saints, followed by the Buffalo Bills the week after at home on “Monday Night Football”, will close out the first half slate for the Seahawks, with November and December promising to be less daunting. These guys usually get tougher in the second half, and aside for trips to New England and Green Bay, the latter of whom aren’t even good anymore, all they’ve got to worry about are home dates with Philadelphia and Carolina and then three straight division games against their weakened cohabitants in the NFC West. A 12-3-1 or 11-4-1 record is a distinct possibility.
Bottom line, Seattle’s played mediocre or worse football in four of their six games, like they typically do this time of year, and they’ve got only one loss to show for it. If that’s not a reason for the rest of the league to be worried, I don’t know what is.