Coming out of their bye week, the Seahawks face an uphill battle to extend their streak of making the playoffs to four consecutive seasons. At 3-5, they're tied for last place in the NFC West and currently lies in 10th place in the conference standings, well below where they expected to be after eight games.
Walking into the VMAC this week, however, one wouldn't sense Seattle sits two games under .500. With coach Pete Carroll running the show, unbridled optimism is expected no matter the circumstances, but even with that under consideration, there was a different ambience in the building. The positive energy emitted by players and coaches alike was palpable and more noticeable than it has been all season.
Assessing the pulse of the franchise, the Seahawks look very much alive and well despite their dismal start and for good reason. They went into their bye week with much-needed momentum by easily discarding the Jaguars 31-7 at home. While relaxing last weekend, a bunch of other teams competing against them for wild card spots lost. Then, most importantly, franchise quarterback Russell Wilson returned to practice on Monday after a three-week absence recovering from finger surgery.
In a season that has for the most part been defined by misfortune and inconsistency to this stage, the ever-so-enthusiastic Carroll sees a prime opportunity for Seattle to hit the reset button and play its way back into contention in coming weeks, starting with a tough road battle against Green Bay on Sunday.
“We are looking as if this is a new beginning on the season," Carroll said on Wednesday. "We come out of the break with the thought that we did a lot of work to figure out where we are, what we’ve been doing, and making sure that we are making adjustments that are necessary, but our intentions are to come right back at it and go one game at a time. This is a huge matchup coming out of the chutes here with Green Bay and we will take it one game at a time to see how far we can go with every intention that we are starting over again.”
Historically, losing five of the first eight games hasn't been a good omen for NFL teams. Since the league adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978, according to Pro Football Reference, only 19 of the 232 teams who started a season 3-5 managed to make the playoffs. That's a mere 8.2 percent.
But interestingly, eight of those 19 teams who advanced to the postseason did so in the past nine seasons. Most recently, the Colts and Cowboys both made the playoffs after 3-5 starts and managed to win a playoff game apiece in 2018.
While receiver Tyler Lockett wrongly recalled the Seahawks being 3-5 during his rookie season in 2016 - they were actually 4-4 after eight games - they did rebound from a rough 4-5 start to earn a wild card spot by winning six of their final seven regular season games. They also won a playoff game, beating the Vikings in the wild card round in sub-zero temperatures.
As Lockett noted, Seattle has the benefit of an extra game on the schedule this time around. They also received a ton of help last weekend with Minnesota, Carolina, Philadelphia, and New Orleans all losing in Week 9. Thanks to those ideal results, the team somehow is only one game out of the final wild card spot behind Atlanta with nine games left to play.
"You look at the playoff hunt, people are 4-4, 4-5, 3-5, 3-6," Lockett confidently stated. "We’re exactly where we need to be at. Everything is still on us. It’s not like we’re sitting here having to depend on people to lose and this team to beat this team. It’s cool if it does work out that way, but we still know that destiny is still in our hands. We can still go out there and play because we don’t need other people to do what needs to be done in order for us to be successful. We still have control to be the team that we want to be."
To get back to the playoffs, even in a top-heavy NFC, the Seahawks will likely need to get to at least nine wins to earn a wild card. This would mean that they have to win six of their last nine games simply to end the year above the .500 mark. Getting to double-digit wins for the ninth time in 10 seasons would dramatically improve their odds and require a 7-2 record down the stretch.
Some may look at Seattle's first half performance and believe achieving such a record isn't feasible, but as several players pointed out this week, the team let several winnable games slip away in the first half. They had a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter against Tennessee, came back from a 14-point deficit in Pittsburgh to force overtime, and led New Orleans on Monday Night Football for most of the evening, only to lose all three of those contests.
The Seahawks held a lead in all five of their losses this season, but they have struggled to play a complete game. This lack of consistency coupled with Wilson's injury led to three losses of three points or less. If the team can flip the script in the second half, Lockett doesn't see any reason why they can't get on a hot streak like they did in 2016.
"Even though the record says that we’re 3-5, we know that based off our performances, based off what we’ve done as a team, our record should be way better than that," Lockett remarked. "We’re not going to mope around feel some type of way just because we’re 3-5. We know we could have easily been 6-2, 7-1, whatever the case is. It didn’t work out that way. It wasn’t like we weren’t in every single game. We were winning almost every single game, if not up by two possessions, so for us it’s not whether or not we can turn things around. It’s can we be consistent playing four quarters?”
Going into the season, after winning the NFC West with a 12-4 record a year ago, Seattle was viewed by many as a Super Bowl contender. Rattling off all of the quality players on the roster in succession to emphasize his point, Wilson agreed with Lockett's sentiment that with a few breaks going their way, the team easily could have been near the top of the division standings rather than the dire situation they find themselves in.
Keeping that in mind coupled with the talented pieces around him, Wilson has no doubt the Seahawks will be able to get the ball rolling over the next few months and the goals they had going into the season remain very much within reach.
“I think what gives us confidence is the games that we feel like we should have won and could have a few more wins here," Wilson added. "Things have happened, but I feel like we have great confidence in who we are, what we are, how we practice, and how we go about our details. We are doing all of the right things, but there are a couple of things here and there. We had some chances to close out games early on that we normally do. It’s just adjusting, it’s a new season, new journey, new day, and we are focused on that. The only thing that we can control is right now."
Those last two words are key. Wilson, Lockett, tackle Duane Brown, and many other teammates have been saying all the right things this week. At the end of the day though, games aren't won and seasons aren't turned around by what is said during press conferences. Championship teams don't just talk the talk, they walk the walk.
The Seahawks have been gifted an opportunity to still make something out of this season, but with little margin for error, they have to seize the moment. That journey begins Sunday against the Packers at Lambeau Field, a place the franchise hasn't won a game at since 1999. With his sole focus on preparing to compete against one of the league's best teams, Brown knows now would be the perfect time to break that streak.
"We’ve got a tough road going into this last stretch, none bigger than this week. We’re attentive to detail. The sense of urgency is there, so it’s just all about executing day-to-day. Getting Russell back is something that will really help us. We’re excited about that, but we understand our challenge. One week at a time. We understand every game has a lot of meaning to it. We’re just taking that approach.”