Fann: Focus on Seahawks shifts from tanking to playoffs in wide-open NFC

Oct 24, 2022, 11:41 AM
Seahawks Kenneth Walker III...
Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker III breaks out of the backfield against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

It’s hard to fathom how the 2022 NFL season has unfolded through seven weeks.

Rost: Seahawks flipped big questions to become one of NFL’s best stories

The Seattle Seahawks are 4-3 and alone in first place atop the NFC West. Suddenly, following a pair of resounding wins against the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Chargers, the focus in the Pacific Northwest has shifted from tanking for a top five pick to being a potential playoff team in the NFC.

FiveThirtyEight currently gives Seattle a 42% chance to make the postseason, up 39% following Sunday’s 37-23 win in Los Angeles. And that seems conservative when you look around the NFC. Only five teams in the conference have a winning record (31.2%), three of which are in the NFC East. The entire NFC South is under .500 and the Packers, Rams and 49ers are all currently playing awful football.

Right now, the Eagles are the only NFC team I’d tell you are unequivocally better than the Seahawks. I’d also suggest the Cowboys are a better team, but I wouldn’t die on that hill if you wanted to argue otherwise. And if you think there’s some bias involved there or an overestimation of these Seahawks, consider that Seattle is currently favored in Week 8 with the 6-1 New York Giants coming to town.

The overall mediocrity of the conference has opened the door for the Seahawks to be one of this season’s top overachievers. It has been a remarkable shift from what most people expected (or even hoped for) at the start of the season. I posted a Twitter poll following Seattle’s Week 3 loss to the Falcons and a whopping 80% of the 3,222 people who responded were either “indifferent” to the loss (42.1%) or felt “good” about it (37.9%).

Surely that wouldn’t be the case today if you gave everyone a chance to re-vote. That’s because the focus is rightfully shifting to this unexpected run at the playoffs. At 4-3 and with so many teams egregiously worse off than the Seahawks, any hope of tanking is out the window. Any sour feelings over that reality are automatically quelled by the reality that the Broncos are 2-5 and trending downward, and Seattle owns Denver’s 2023 first-round pick that could very well be in the top five.

It’s important to note how the Seahawks got to this point and how likely they are to sustain their current success. I already told you about how poor the NFC has been. That’s a very relevant factor.

But the obvious shortcomings of other teams don’t diminish the well-earned credit we should be giving the Seahawks. Seattle’s offense ranks fifth in scoring and 12th in total yards. Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s group ranks first in rushing yards per attempt and seventh in net passing yards per attempt. Beyond the efficiency numbers, Pro Football Focus ranks Seattle’s offense eighth and Football Outsider’s has it top 10 in DVOA.

Geno Smith has been a driving factor of that success at quarterback. He has been so much more than a game manager most with an ever-improving deep ball and the ability to navigate tight windows downfield. Smith ranks seventh in passing yards (1,712), sixth in passing touchdowns (11), third in quarterback rating (107.7), fourth in QBR (66.8) and first in completion percentage (73.5%). Pro Football Focus ranks him third among NFL starters behind only Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. He’s been objectively a top two quarterback in the NFC along with Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts.

Seattle’s rookie class deserves mention, as well. General manager John Schneider appears to have had an all-time draft based on early returns.

Rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas rank 14th and 22nd, respectively, in ESPN’s pass block win rate metric out of 64 qualifying tackles, per ESPN’s Seth Walder.

Running back Kenneth Walker III has three straight games with at least 88 rushing yards and a touchdown, including Sunday’s 168-yard, two-touchdown outburst. He could end up being this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year following Jets running back Breece Hall’s ACL tear.

Cornerback Tariq Woolen is a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, though Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner is the favorite there.

Coby Bryant (nickel corner) and Boye Mafe (pass rusher) have each been respectable in prominent roles.

Finally, and most importantly when it comes to the potential sustainability of Seattle’s current trajectory, has been the improvement on defense. The Seahawks started the season with five horrific defensive performances in six games. The last two have been drastically better, allowing just 26 combined points to the Cardinals and Chargers. Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt deserve kudos there.

I feel confident saying the Seahawks will make the playoffs if they can sustain this latest defensive turnaround. The ask is small: just be competent. That’s all it should take in a conference filled with incompetence. Avoid the egregious mental mistakes, missed assignments and freebie explosives. This offense, especially considering DK Metcalf avoided a serious knee injury, should be good enough to give Seattle a chance to win games so long as the defense isn’t outright losing them.

The Seahawks surging coupled with the Broncos flailing forces teams around the league to stay away from the notion that they wouldn’t have to worry about Seattle during an expected multi-year rebuild. This team is winning now and is equipped with the necessary resources to remain successful and relevant without ever visiting the NFL’s cellar.

More on the Seahawks

Salk: The three biggest reasons Seahawks have played their way into first place
How about that? Geno Smith-led Seahawks in first place in NFC West
Recap: Walker, Goodwin lead Seahawks over Chargers 37-23
Seahawks Instant Reaction: Seattle Sports on 37-23 win over Chargers

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Fann: Focus on Seahawks shifts from tanking to playoffs in wide-open NFC