Will The Real Seahawks Please Stand Up?
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports columnist
Pick an outcome for the Seattle Seahawks, any outcome you like, all the way from a triumphant run that culminates in Super Bowl glory to a playoff-opening flameout against a depleted opponent. And everything in between.
Cast your mind over all the options and possibilities and consider this: Would any of them legitimately be a surprise?
Seattle hosts the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday (4:40 p.m. ET on FOX) as part of a Super Wild Card Weekend that promises to be wild in both its breathless volume of football action and, quite possibly, in the results that emerge from it.
"Let’s just admit it," wrote the Seattle Times’ Larry Stone. "This Seahawks team … remains an utter mystery."
What you see is what you get when it comes to Pete Carroll’s team. But what exactly have we seen?
This season’s version of the Seahawks is anything and everything. Personal perspective dictates they have either a terrible defense masquerading as an exceptionally good one, or a really good one that was temporarily terrible.
They are either a gun-slinging offense filled with force and poise that briefly faltered, or a smoke-and-mirrors unit that got overly excited about its big-play potential and was ultimately found out.
They’re a 12-4 division-winning outfit that’s more than capable of beating good teams and taking care of the Rams, having done so Dec. 27. And they’re shaky enough to lose at home to the New York Giants, which happened at the start of December.
"Take one part, your first-half (of the season) offense, mix it with another part, your second-half defense, put it together, you might have the best team in football," FS1’s Nick Wright said on First Things First.
But what if the opposite happens? In that scenario, the underdog Rams would love their chances, even if Jared Goff remains out injured and intriguing backup John Wolford — who still has an active LinkedIn account as he keeps a finance career as an open option — starts.
FOX Bet lists the Seahawks as a 3.5-point favorite, but frankly, it is hard to know which way to go. There are a multitude of reasons to believe in Seattle, and just as many not to.
Let’s start with the defense, because that is where the transformation has truly been at its greatest. After five games – all victories – the Seahawks were bound for historic ineptitude, conceding a whopping 471 yards per game and on a path to smash the National Football League’s all-time yards allowed record.
A horrid pass rush and a distinct lack of physicality were the contributing factors and strong safety Jamal Adams’ absence didn’t help much. Then, it turned. From Week 10 through Week 17, Seattle’s defense suddenly stepped up, conceding just over 200 yards per game and morphing into one of the best in the league. Just as Wilson’s spectacular start fizzled out.
Carroll chose not to dive deep into the reasons for the turnaround during his media availability this week, except to ironically offer that things had reached a point defensively where they couldn’t get any worse.
"What gave me the confidence is years of coaching," Carroll said. "We had a lot of things to put together, so it was going to take some time. It took us maybe a little longer than normal. I had never seen us be that bad, so I knew that wasn’t the way it was going to be. We turned a great corner."
Defensive factors notwithstanding, if you have faith in the Seahawks’ potential for a deep run it is almost certainly because you believe in Wilson’s ability to shine when it matters. After all, he led Seattle to the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the 2013 season, and nearly did so again the next year.
"Russell Wilson is decorated in the postseason," Skip Bayless said on Undisputed. "I trust him in the postseason."
Wilson’s regular season, this time, was a weird one. By the end of Week 5, he didn’t just look like an MVP frontrunner, but an absolute lock for the award. Until he wasn’t.
He fell apart against the Arizona Cardinals, tossing three interceptions, gave the ball away four times against the Buffalo Bills and struggled mightily in that head-scratcher with the Giants.
The "Let Russ Cook" policy, which allowed Wilson to fire deep and free, saw its luck run out. Carroll intimated Wilson’s decline was a mere result of facing better defenses, but while that might have been the case the past three weeks, the falloff began long before then.
"Generally, I’m not a worrier," Carroll added. "If you look at who we’ve been playing, these guys are really good and they’ve made a difference. I don’t think defenses earlier this year were playing to this level. Here we go with the Rams, they’re the best in the NFL."
Even this weekend might not answer the question: "Who is the real Seattle?" They’ll be meeting the Rams for the third time and these are two teams who haven’t just played frequently, but have thought about each other all season long.
All things considered, Seattle should be the favorite, but that’s based on a lot of ifs. If Wilson rediscovers his mojo, if the defense continues to strut and, perhaps more pertinently, if one of those units can compensate if the other is off the mark.
It is one of the postseasons biggest conundrums and it’s partly guesswork. Because when it comes to the Seahawks, any level of performance – and any outcome – is on the table.