Week 13 of the 2021 NFL season saw the Seahawks’ chances of making the playoffs increase from less than one percent to three percent, per the statistical analysis of FiveThirtyEight.com.
If Seattle were to win out, going 5-0 and finishing the season with a 9-8 record, its odds of reaching the postseason would leap. On FiveThirtyEight, putting all wins for the Seahawks into the outlet's playoff simulator raises those chances to 63 percent. Meanwhile, if Seattle wins out and every favored team wins each of their remaining games, the Seahawks would make the playoffs.
Feeding into the hope, the Seahawks’ most recent victory over the 49ers left their prospects of finishing the season with all-wins feel less daunting. This was largely thanks to franchise quarterback Russell Wilson playing much closer to his best.
Nevertheless, a 5-0 finish remains difficult.
Star strong safety Jamal Adams suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, however, and is due to undergo reconstructive surgery soon. Adams’ versatility allowed Seattle to play a variety of defenses, moving him around to defend the various challenges that opposing offenses pose.
Schedule-wise, while the Seahawks will be expected to win matchups with the 2-10 Texans, 1-10-1 Lions, and 4-8 Bears, the intra-divisional clashes with the 8-4 Rams and 10-2 Cardinals figure to be brutal.
Moreover, Seattle’s own 4-8 record can only be obfuscated and talked around so much. Ultimately, the Seahawks have earned this record by playing bad football.
So what else is there to play for when it comes to the Seahawks?
Most obvious is the professional pride element. Playing losing football is not remotely fun and hurts, physically as well as mentally.
Culturally, not playing to win would be a disaster. The bizarre-to-many Adrian Peterson signing reflected Pete Carroll’s awareness of this fact. Not attempting to still compete at the highest level, slim playoff hopes or not, would contradict Carroll’s installed ethos. It would signify the end of Carroll in the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle’s players tap the “All In” sign whenever they step onto the Virginia Mason Athletic Center’s practice field. The Seahawks organization even takes the sign to road games and installs it above the entrance to the tunnel.
It was suggested that Seattle should choose to rotate certain depth pieces and young players into its lineup, in order to figure out how much back-end talent existed on the roster. While other franchises may have opted for this approach, it would have risked breaking Carroll’s Seahawks. It would likely have resulted in complete cultural ruin.
When Carroll said “this is the NFL” in response to questions over rotation, this is likely what the head coach was alluding to. The decision, of course, is made easier given that tanking for draft position is not a viable strategy; the Seahawks do not possess a first-round draft pick in 2022.
The on-field results of Carroll staying with his “Always Compete” culture are visible. Both sides of the ball appear eager to correct matters, to help their teammates and fight. Visible high effort plays exist on offense and defense. The Seahawks are battling and have not quit.
Another motivator, perhaps greater, is the financial significance that the remaining five games hold for Seattle’s players. The end to the season will shape their futures, impacting their finances and careers.
Think of those who signed one-year, prove-it deals with the Seahawks this past offseason. Men like tight end Gerald Everett or center Ethan Pocic hoped to cash in on a more coffered 2022 offseason—compared to the austerity of the COVID-impacted 2021 spending.
There are also others hoping to prove their worth. Free safety Quandre Diggs has played fantastic football after extension talks with the team stalled in the offseason. Diggs, who turns 29 in January, is sitting at four total interceptions in 2021. He will aim to continue his high level of play and ball production, looking to dominate his bet against Seattle’s front office.
Another veteran in a similar position is left tackle Duane Brown. The 36-year old has experienced some rough games this year, yet some improved performances in recent weeks suggest he may capitalize on the final five games. He will certainly want to.
An additional example is the players on rookie contracts looking to earn their first real payday. The majority of the Seahawks’ 2018 draft class enters free agency after this season, with running back Rashaad Penny, defensive end Rasheem Green, tight end Will Dissly and offensive lineman Jamarco Jones all waiting for second deals.
The most likely scenario of not making postseason football could still be a positive: Seattle learns lessons from this season.
Ideally, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron establishes success with Wilson and the offense starts scoring at the star quarterback's typical career rate, while the boom-bust elements reduce. Moving to the defense, they'll look to continue producing low-scoring performances and the front office retools the weak areas—pass rush being a clear issue.
...Or 5-0 does happen and Seattle has everything to play for once more.