With seven games remaining in the 2016 season, the clock is ticking for Seattle to prove that they are not just a playoff team, but a legitimate contender.
With Russell Wilson, Jimmy Graham, Thomas Rawls, CJ Prosise, and Kam Chancellor all looking as close to healthy as they have all year, this could be the team to beat in the NFC once the regular season dust settles. Minnesota looks like a pretender, Green Bay has lost its identity, Dallas looks solid but is carried by two rookies, and no one seems to know what to make of Philadelphia, Arizona, or Atlanta.
Those are the players in the NFC this year, and Seattle has what it takes to line up and beat any of them in a win or go home situation.
Seattle appeared to hit rock bottom when they lost to New Orleans, and after surviving two instant classic games against Buffalo and New England, the Seahawks look like they did in week 11 of the 2014 season – alive for the first time in weeks. Their loss against the Chiefs two years ago awoke a sleeping giant and put the rest of the league on notice as they won their final five contests and stormed into the playoffs.
Seattle’s loss to the Saints appears to have had an identical impact. In the two weeks since their wakeup call, they are 2-0, scoring 31 points in consecutive weeks, while allowing 24.5 per game. That’s not the look of the league’s best scoring defense, and they might lose that title for the first time since 2011. Second place isn’t so bad though, and that’s where they stand today. If their offense continues to score 31 points per game, they would climb into 2nd place in that category also, a huge leap from the 21st ranking they hold today.
In their seven remaining games, Seattle will face just one team with a winning record – Philadelphia. Their other six opponents will be Tampa Bay, Carolina, Green Bay, LA, Arizona, and San Francisco. They may drop a game or two over that stretch, but it’s fair to guess they could have a 11-4-1 record when the season ends.
With a track record of second half surges going back to Wilson’s first season in 2012, the odds are in their favor. In four seasons, Seattle has not gone worse than 6-2 in their final eight games. So far this year, they’re 1-0 in the second half of the season and are facing the easiest part of their schedule. As the table below shows, the odds are in their favor to run downhill in the second half of their schedule based on recent history:
A big part of their success late in the season comes from a physical approach on both sides of the ball. It’s tough to pull that off without a great running game, which means Rawls returning from a fractured fibula could not have come at a better time. Seattle rode the brutal and angry running style of Marshawn Lynch to a ton of success from 2010-14, and Rawls looked like the next man up in just 13 appearances, including 7 starts in 2015. A broken ankle cut his season short, and forced a spark to the passing game as the other running backs on the roster failed to produce consistently.
While retired, Lynch is still the standard bearer until Rawls or another player proves they can handle a similar workload over the course of multiple seasons, and Rawls is definitely the man for the job when healthy as the chart below shows –
Rawls’ touchdown numbers could use a spike, but the amount of first downs he earned is right in line with what Lynch was able to do in his last full healthy season as the starter. Then there is the curious case of Michael, who had 30 fewer attempts in nine complete starts this season, and produced nowhere near the yards Rawls was able to churn out. With no one pushing for playing time, Michael settled into the lead back role, and perhaps he settled a little too much, which may or may not help illustrate why Michael fell out of favor, and ultimately was the odd man out once Rawls and Prosise were deemed healthy and back in the rotation.
It’s make or break time for Seattle, and with key players back and healthy, now’s the time for a surge. Dallas holds the league’s best record at 8-1, and if Seattle takes care of business down the stretch and wins the NFC West, which they should win easily with limited competition, they could be facing Dallas in the conference championship. Dallas QB Dak Prescott has been very impressive in his first nine career starts, and has drawn early career comparisons to the likes of Tom Brady, Wilson, and Ben Roethlisberger.
Unlike Prescott, Wilson has been here before, and can draw on past experience to get the job done. With an offense of budding stars and one former superstar (Graham), it could be really scary if the defense gets back on track at the same time the offense gets rolling. This could look a lot like those early 1990’s Dallas Cowboys teams that were just unbeatable on both sides of the ball.
Seattle sure looked unbeatable in 2013, looked mortal but very strong in 2014, and has looked good but just above average since.
Can they find their way back to their dominant winning ways? Their current win streak started two weeks ago, and if they can win at home against Philadelphia this Sunday afternoon, they might just find themselves in the midst of a surge.
The Surging Second Half Seahawks – has a nice ring to it (pun intended).