As real estate people say, it’s all about “location, location, location.”
Location is the main subject when you talk about the Seahawks, who travel to Atlanta on Saturday to face the Falcons in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
The Seahawks would be considered the more talented team. They are loaded with a core group of defensive players who have taken the team to the divisional round of the playoffs five straight years. They have put up some of the best five-year defensive numbers in NFL history. They have Russell Wilson at quarterback. Doug Baldwin has emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver. Jimmy Graham is one of the best tight ends in the league.
But the loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16 cost the Seahawks the chance to get a bye and a home game this week with the No. 2 seed, which instead went to Atlanta. That one loss now has the Seahawks as four-point underdogs and left those watching with questions about the offensive line, their running attack and vulnerability in a secondary that is missing Earl Thomas.
Another factor is how difficult it is to win games on the road, particularly in the playoffs. Despite their success in the Pete Carroll era, the Seahawks have gotten off to slow starts in playoff road games. They trailed the Washington Redskins 14-0 in the wild-card round in 2012, though they came back to win. They trailed the Falcons 20-0 the next week, and even came back to take the lead with 31 seconds left before Matt Ryan drove Atlanta into position for a game-winning field goal.
Last year, Seattle trailed Minnesota 9-0 before winning the game in the fourth quarter of a wild-card game. Then they let the Carolina Panthers jump out to a 31-0 lead and fell short with only a 24-point comeback.
The road hasn’t been kind to the Seahawks offense this year, either. Russell Wilson struggled early in the season with his knee and ankle problems. Other road games later in the season were a struggle expect for the trip to New England.
This is why Seattle’s successful run under Carroll is at a crossroads. The Seahawks’ core group is still in its prime, but five years is a long time to maintain excellence.
That’s why winning in Atlanta is so important.
The perception is the Seahawks will lose, but the players are confident and believe they will win. This is probably the reason Richard Sherman has been so edgy. He knows the margin of success or failure is thin and he doesn’t want the Seahawks to lose the edge of being at forefront of Super Bowl challengers each year.
Jim Tunney is an NFL historian who spends his days coming up with great history lessons on the game. The other day he researched some of the best five-year defensive stretches in NFL history dating back to 1980. The Seahawks ranked among the best ever. From 2012 to 2016, the Seahawks topped the NFL is fewest rushing yards allowed (7,379), lowest defensive passing rating (75.9), fewest yards allowed (23,318) and fewest points allowed (1,299).
Tunney broke it down in six categories; the Seahawks won four of six.
It’s up to the Seahawks to cash in on this stretch and see if they can advance in the playoffs to make the most of it.
Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.