When the Seahawks fell to the Saints 13-10 in Week 7, their latest loss dropped them to 2-5 for the first time since 2011. With quarterback Russell Wilson set to miss at least one more game recovering from finger surgery, all playoff hopes seemed to be dashed before the calendar flipped to November.
But after blowing out Jacksonville in a 31-7 throttling at Lumen Field last Sunday, Seattle entered its bye week riding a wave of momentum and has received nothing but good news over the past few days. Wilson has already started throwing after having the pin removed from his finger, setting the stage for him to play in Week 10, while several other teams jockeying for wild card spots lost key players to injury.
Though the Seahawks still have a long way to go to crawl out of the NFC West cellar and climb back into playoff contention, relentlessly optimistic coach Pete Carroll has plenty of reasons to be hopeful about his team's chances with nine games left to play.
“I feel like we have to start right now, we are starting a little early on in the second half for us with this game," Carroll said on Monday. "I hope that we can kick it into high gear. We have been close enough and have been on the topic, knowing that we have a lot of good things going for us. We just have to bring them together, finish some games off, and knock these wins in a boat, so it was good to get that win yesterday with a clear mark of the bye time. We are kicking it into high gear.”
History isn't necessarily on Seattle's side. Since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978, per Pro Football Reference, only 19 teams, or less than 10 percent, have overcome a 3-5 start to make the playoffs. But interestingly, eight of those teams have made the playoffs since 2012, including the 2018 Cowboys, who beat the Seahawks in the wild card round.
The Seahawks' chances are also aided by the fact the NFL added a third wild card in each conference last year and an extra game to the regular season schedule starting this year. In 2020, the Bears earned the last wild card spot in the NFC with an 8-8 record.
Does Seattle have what it takes to become the 20th team to overcome a 3-5 start and clinch a playoff spot? Here's a look at why Carroll's team will, or why they won't, advance to postseason play for the ninth time in 10 years.
Why Seahawks Will Make Postseason
Despite being in last place in the NFC West, the conference has only six teams with winning records currently and Seattle finds itself only one game out of the final wild card spot behind a suspect 4-4 Carolina team. Several other contenders vying for that final spot have suffered significant injuries in recent weeks, including New Orleans losing starting quarterback Jameis Winston to a torn ACL and Minnesota losing pass rusher Danielle Hunter to a torn pectoral.
On the flip side, the Seahawks won't only be welcoming back Wilson. Running back Chris Carson appears to be trending in the right direction to return soon from a neck issue, while rookie receiver Dee Eskridge is expected to be designated to return from injured reserve after missing seven games with a severe concussion. While many of their competitors have taken hard hits on the injury front, they will be getting far healthier on offense heading into the second half of the schedule.
From an opponent standpoint, Seattle has five very winnable games against teams under .500 left to play, with three of them slated to be played at Lumen Field. There's no such thing as an easy opponent in the NFL, but Carroll's squad should be heavily favored against Houston and Washington on the road as well as Chicago and Detroit at home. A rematch with the 49ers at home will be challenging, but barring injuries, the Seahawks should be favored in that game as well.
Last, but not least, Bobby Wagner and the Seahawks have been playing much better defensively over the past three weeks. After making history by allowing 450 yards or more in four consecutive games, they've only allowed 14.3 points per game and 319 total yards per game since Week 6. The pass rush and the secondary units has gelled in recent weeks and while competition has played a part in the turnaround, this group is healthy and seems to have righted the ship in time to make a playoff push. Helping matters, especially if Aaron Rodgers can't play for the Packers due to COVID-19, they don't face many top-level quarterbacks in the second half.
Why Seahawks Won't Make Postseason
Seattle should be able to feast on several bottom feeders on the remaining schedule, but Carroll's team also has four very difficult games against NFC elite and three of those will be on the road. In Week 10, they will travel to face the Packers at Lambeau Field, where they haven't won since 1999. The next week, they will host the 7-1 Cardinals. In the final four weeks, they will play the 7-1 Rams as well as Cardinals on the road. Losing three or all four of those games would prevent them from eclipsing nine wins, which might not be enough to get a playoff spot.
While Wilson's return undoubtedly will be welcomed by the Seahawks, they weren't necessarily lighting the world on fire offensively before he suffered his finger injury in Week 5. In two of those games, they failed to hit the 20-point mark, and although they scored at least 28 points in the other three games, they scored seven or fewer points in a half all three times. If Wilson and company aren't able to play four quarters and continue to struggle with inconsistency running Shane Waldron's scheme, it's hard to envision the team orchestrating the type of winning streak needed to climb back into contention.
Getting to nine or even 10 wins still may be in the cards if Seattle gets hot, but the team didn't help its chances of making the postseason by losing to New Orleans and Minnesota. The Saints are two and a half games ahead of the Seahawks and hold the tiebreaker. The Vikings remain a game in front in the standings and also hold the tiebreaker. With both of those teams expected to be in the mix for the rest of the season, those prior losses could come back to bite the Seahawks even if they do manage to rattle off six or seven wins in the final nine games.
As proven in Week 8 when the lowly Jets stunned the Bengals, there's no such thing as a guaranteed victory in the NFL. The Seahawks margin for error is razor thin and they will most likely need to win all five of their games against the Texans, Bears, Lions, Washington Football Team, and 49ers to give themselves a realistic chance of getting back into the postseason. If they lose one of those games, that will put even more pressure on them to go at least 2-2 against a gauntlet featuring the Packers, Cardinals, and Rams.
But with Wilson back under center and an improving defense gaining confidence each week, Seattle will be equipped to make such a run. Despite a dreadful start, they still control their destiny in the NFC playoff race. A top-heavy conference presents the opportunity for a team with a 10-7 or even 9-8 record to earn the seventh and final wild card and Carroll's team has more than enough talent to be able to rattle off a bunch of wins after the bye if they play to their potential.
Assuming the Seahawks stay healthy and win the games they are expected to win - that's always a big if - they should be well-positioned heading into December to battle for the final wild card spot. Finding a way to steal one of their two road games against the Rams and Cardinals in the final month would dramatically help their chances of making the postseason for the fourth consecutive season.