MIKE SALK

Salk: Seahawks’ final 2 games pivotal beyond their ’23 playoff hopes

Dec 27, 2023, 12:34 AM

Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll...

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll during a Dec. 18, 2023 game against Philadelphia. (Jane Gershovich/Getty Images)

(Jane Gershovich/Getty Images)

The Seattle Seahawks are currently 8-7, hold the seventh playoff seed in the NFC and control their own destiny.

Rost: What stands out after Seattle Seahawks get back over .500

With two wins to close out the season – one over a Pittsburgh team with a similar record but starting their third quarterback of the year and another against a bottom-feeding Cardinals team that hasn’t improved since Kyler Murray returned – they will make the playoffs for the 11th time in 14  years under Pete Carroll, and for second straight year since jettisoning their franchise quarterback.

The feat would be remarkable and worth celebrating. Pete has been a model of consistency in a league that sees teams rise and fall like a trigonometry curve. He is comfortable with chaos, refuses to give up, uses all of his motivational tactics to get the most out of his players, and seems to recognize what it takes to win all kinds of different style games. There aren’t many like him, if any at all.

Now, this year has been befuddling. At times, this team has looked completely overmatched, undisciplined, out-muscled, and on the verge of collapse. At other times, they have shown an ability to not quit, play their best when it matters most, and take full advantage of their skillful personnel.

It’s easy to feel like the Seahawks are the only team on that roller coaster. But guess what? It’s pretty darn common. Maybe more common now than ever.

With every NFL team having now played 15 games, it is impossible to have any at .500. But amazingly, 44% of the league is either 8-7 or 7-8, and twenty-four teams are still in playoff contention with two weeks to play.

While that may fit the NFL’s desire for parity, there is another word we could use to describe it: mediocrity.

To be .500 in the NFL, or really in any sport, has always been a lousy position. In some circumstances, we see young teams on the rise stop at .500 before reaching their full potential the next season. But all too often, the mediocre middle has been the no man’s land for teams missing something.

Maybe they don’t have the right quarterback, the right scheme, the right coach, the right personnel, or the right vibe. Maybe they just don’t have a clutch gene to win the close ones. They aren’t good enough to compete for championships but too good to force meaningful change. My colleague Mike Lefko wrote an excellent piece (link below) which takes this premise and applies it to the quarterback position.

Lefko: Seahawks risk being stuck in mediocrity, should look for future QB

I happen to agree with him 100%, especially when he wrote it (following Seattle’s fourth straight loss in Week 14).

The Seahawks have a good shot to make the playoffs and I’m certainly not in the business of rooting for them to fail. Far from it. The national view of the primetie win over Philadelphia might have focused on the Eagles’ collapse, but it seemed to also spark something in these Seahawks. It brought them life, and might have even cleaned up a few issues behind the scenes.

So here is the (first) big question: What are the chances the Super Bowl is won by any of the 44% of teams in no man’s land? Honestly, it seems pretty darn low. Sure, we sometimes see a surging contender that starts slow, matures and comes into the playoffs on fire. Maybe the Bucs get in after winning six straight and ride that momentum all the way to Las Vegas on Feb. 11. But I sure wouldn’t put my own money on it.

The Niners, Lions, Cowboys, Eagles, Dolphins, Ravens, or maybe the Chiefs or Bills seem significantly more likely to get there. Those teams are all at least 10-5, with a ton of those losses coming against each other.

You could write a script for the Seahawks to get there. Their defense has improved with the subtraction of Jamal Adams and some open competition at corner. Their offense seems to have found some footing, especially in the passing game. The four-game losing streak may have taught them some serious lessons.

They have beaten Detroit and Philly, played Dallas close, and could watch while other teams knock off the Niners and Rams. Heck, they could beat one of their division rivals since it’s tough to beat a team three times in a season. But to do all of those things? Seems like a tough ask.

So let’s get to the obvious follow-up: Are the Seahawks on track to become one of those franchises at the top if they aren’t there already? Could they do it this year? Next year?

I don’t know the answer yet. If they can go 10-7 and make some serious playoff noise, there would be compelling evidence to suggest that they are on the rise and maybe a piece or two from an elite season. If not, since 2016 they will have gone with only one playoff win to their credit, and it will have been a full decade since they advanced past the divisional round.

That question doesn’t need to be answered until the end of the season. But it allows us to watch the rest of these games with our eyes in two places. We can root for this underdog story to get into the playoffs and prove themselves. It’s a fun story, especially when they find exciting ways to do it like the last two weeks. And we can simultaneously monitor the long-term need to get past that lowered bar of making the playoffs and back to the real goal of dominating the league and returning to the Super Bowl.

Talk about a massive few weeks.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carroll praises Seahawks pass rush that leads NFC in sacks
Who will Steelers play at quarterback in Seattle?
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