After defeating the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, and winning their seventh of eight games, the Seattle Seahawks are once again officially in the playoffs. Does this team have any chance of making back it to the Super Bowl for the third straight year?
For all the players that remain the same as the last three seasons, these Seahawks are not playing like the same team. The once-dominant defense, though still near the top of the National Football League in several categories, is the not the main reason Seattle is 9-5 with two games left. The cause of this year’s second half success is most inarguably because the offense is playing so consistently well.
The past five weeks quarterback Russell Wilson has completed 74.3 percent of his passes, has thrown 19 touchdown passes and has not been intercepted. The Seahawks have won each of those games. He has been able to be more comfortable throwing because the offensive line has improved each week and is giving him more time to throw. Also, Wilson, who was averaging nearly 3 seconds before release on dropbacks early in the year, is getting rid of the ball much quicker on designed throws. On third downs specifically, he is averaging 2.28 seconds before release, third fastest in the NFL. According to ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia, Wilson was only completing 56.5 percent of his passes on third-down during the first 10 games of the year, and had a 88.4 passer rating on those downs. In the past five contests, he is completing 79.1 percent of his third-down throws with a passer rating of 150.6, first in the league.
The recipient of many of his touchdown throws the last five games has been receiver Doug Baldwin. On throws to Baldwin in that span, Wilson has completed 27 of 34 pass attempts for 426 yards and 10 touchdowns. The two players have played together for almost four seasons now, and there has been no better pairing in the NFL over the last half of this season than Wilson and Baldwin.
Rookie Tyler Lockett has also proved himself to be a worthy receiver for Wilson. Growing into his role more each week, Lockett has 18 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns in the last three games.
The Seahawks have, of course, suffered injuries to their two most productive tailbacks this season, Marshawn Lynch and rookie Thomas Rawls. Lynch is still expected to be back by the playoffs, while Rawls has been lost for the year with an ankle injury. Against the Browns on Sunday, recent re-signees Christine Michael had 84 yards on 16 carries and Bryce Brown ran for 43 yards on nine rushes. Michael looked in control and did not fumble, a knock against him the last three years, and Brown showed promise. It remains to be seen, though, just how productive Michael and Brown will be against better competition.
The St. Louis Rams play the Seahawks in Seattle this Sunday, and that could show just how much progress the offense overall, and offensive line specifically, has made. In the first game of the season, the Rams defensive line dominated Seattle’s offensive line. When Seattle needed to pick up a yard on fourth-and-one late in the game, they were unable to do so. The Rams, though they have not met expectations this season and have suffered numerous injuries, have won two in a row and seem to always make things uneasy for Seattle. If the Seahawks are unable to run the ball well on Sunday, it could prove a negative barometer in going forward this season.
Of course, what happens against the Rams and the following week against the Arizona Cardinals could prove to be meaningless if Seattle chooses to rest many of its starters. Seattle will be playing in the first round of the playoffs no matter if they win their last two games, lose them or split them. They cannot improve their seeding, and even if they win their last two could still fall from fifth seed to sixth based on what happens between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. The most important aspect in the last two games of the season is to keep the health of key players intact.
Offensively, the Seahawks are playing well enough to make a deep run in the playoffs, even though most likely they will be on the road the entire time. The question is how well the defense plays. This is the exact opposite worry compared to seasons’ past. Will the secondary be good enough to slow Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers enough at Lambeau Field to win the game, for instance? Or do the Seahawks have the right personnel to defeat possible NFL Most Valuable Player Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte?
It should be noted that the Seahawks had a fourth-quarter lead against both of those teams when they played earlier this season. That was before the Seahawks offense began playing so efficiently and well and before the Seahawks fixed some of the issues they had on defense.
This is still not the same type defense Seahawks fans are used to seeing, but most of Seattle’s players are the same. These are the same players who have made it to back-to-back Super Bowls, so if there is one thing there can be no doubt of it is that the Seahawks know how to win in the playoffs. That cannot be underappreciated as the team moves forward.