There’s just a sliver of playoff hope left, but this team hasn’t been mathematically eliminated yet. At 4-8, Seattle is amazingly just two games behind the seventh-seeded San Francisco 49ers (say that five times fast), but the Seahawks have a mountain of opponents to pass to catch the 49ers, and just five games to do it.
San Francisco holds the final Wild Card spot. To get it, Seattle will have to maintain a better final record (or hold a tie-breaker) than San Francisco, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Carolina, Atlanta, New Orleans, New York Giants, and Chicago. Eight teams, that’s how many spots in the standings they have to move up between this Sunday’s game in Houston and the final whistle in their game at Arizona four weeks from now. In most years, this wouldn’t just be a long shot; it would be impossible, and yet here we are living in a fascinating modern age where four-win teams have a shot at the playoffs this late in the season.
With 13 teams holding seven or more wins, that means that there are 19 teams in the league with six or fewer wins. And 11 of them are in the NFC, jockeying for position along with Seattle in the final month of the season. That’s how crazy this first try at an 18 week season is going; it’s many things, but dull just isn’t one of them.
Russell Wilson returned from a finger injury on his throwing hand just in time to lead Seattle on a second-half surge, but it hasn’t looked that way, not yet. He went winless in his first three games back before getting his first win since week four, and it was against a familiar opponent, those same pesky 49ers he beat for his last win before the injury. That makes Wilson 3-5 this season, not including week 5 when he was on his way to losing to LA before being injured late in the third quarter.
This brings us to 2-10 Houston, the hosts for Seattle this week, and the tune-up game they desperately need. They last had one just before their bye and looked great as Geno Smith passed his way to victory, his only win while he filled in for Wilson. The team was on bye the following week, and then Wilson returned when they went to Green Bay.
So this is really a reset of week nine, and Wilson will need to make the most of it. He finally looked close to himself last week, passing for two scores and narrowly missing out on a third thanks to an interesting play on the ball from Gerald Everett that led to an interception. If Wilson can’t get it going in Houston, where dreams come true, there may be no hope left when they head into their final four games.
Houston is fresh off being skunked 31-0 by Indianapolis and are likely to start Davis Mills at QB with Tyrod Taylor nursing a wrist injury. Seattle will need to pressure Mills and cover receiver Brandin Cooks, and if they can do that – it’s a home run as long as their offense shows up. There really isn’t more to it than that; if you think Seattle is in trouble, look no further than Houston to get re-inspired by the Seahawks.
These teams aren’t mirrored images of each other since Seattle has a wealth of talent on both sides, but the overall results aren’t much different regardless of who is playing. The table below illustrates how surprisingly close these two teams are on paper, and the fact they are separated by just two wins is even less surprising.
Seattle is in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards, passing yards, sacks allowed, running and passing yards allowed, and sacks, but to the surprise of many, they are in the top half of the league or close in scoring and scoring defense. So they struggle more than most teams between the twenties, but once they get in the red zone or allow another team to, they are an above-average unit on both sides of the ball – which is more than a bit of head-scratching. They might want to try using some of those red-zone play calls in the other parts of the field, and perhaps they wouldn’t have to expend so much energy in the most stress-inducing part of the field.
By comparison, Houston is in the bottom half or worse in all but two categories – passing yards and passing scores allowed where they are a top 15 unit. They generate almost no pressure and cannot stop the ground game even by breathing wrong on the opposing running backs. Seattle is near the league’s bottom in rushing yards generated and sacks allowed, so this could be an interesting chess match between two players that either don’t know the rules or are just plain bad at it.
Even with a lower-ranking opponent on deck, there is no margin for error for Seattle with just five games left and three of them on the road. Their last two home games are against Chicago and Detroit, and they have games at division opponents LA and Arizona. With at least two games to make up and just five games left, Seattle needs to win them all if they are going to have a chance at the last wild card spot. A final record of 9-8 sounds crazy right now as they sit at 4-8 so perhaps 8-9 is more realistic, although it’s possible one loss can kill any last scraps of postseason dreams they are clinging to.
With any luck, Arizona will already know their playoff seed in week 18 and will be resting their starters against Seattle. If the Cardinals need one last win to lock up a higher playoff spot, good luck. There might not be a team in the league as talented as Arizona, and they are best at home in their safe and comfortable dome.
No matter how it shakes out, Seattle will need a lot of help and luck before they can shout “Yahtzee” from the middle of the NFC mountain. You might want me to have said “top of the NFC mountain,” but that’s not where Seattle is going to be, even in the best of scenarios. If this team can get healthy, stay that way, and go on a run? It’s possible they could make some noise and sneak into the playoffs. I think this team is a lot more like the 2019 version than most would care to admit, and that team had a shot at the division in the final week of the season, which isn’t going to happen this time. They won a playoff game on the road before losing a nail-biter in the divisional round, and I can see this team having a similar end to their season if they can get the offense rolling. No one is expecting big things from their defense, those days are long gone, but it’s possible this offense can do something big if Wilson can get back on track. If the offense continues to struggle, it would be to the surprise of no one if they miss the playoffs for just the second time in Wilson’s career.