Yesterday, I did a little comparison of the rosters between last year and this year. Obviously, it wasn’t comprehensive – as it’s JUST a look at the Super Bowl rosters and not taking into account all the injured players who helped get us to those points – but I think we can all agree that the 2013 Seahawks were the clear Best Team In Franchise History. But, either way, we’re talking about two VERY good teams. It takes a buttload of talent to make it to the Super Bowl; and it takes a special kind of buttload to make it to back-to-back Super Bowls.
My take on these two teams is this: the 2013 Seahawks were more special, because it was our first championship. You never forget the first time. Those players will be fixtures in my sports fandom until the day I die. But, what these 2014 Seahawks are doing is more DIFFICULT, and not just because of what we saw against Green Bay last Sunday.
I look at it like this: go ahead and check the standings and how they compare between 2013 and 2014. Now, check the Seahawks’ schedule between 2013 and 2014. If you count the games where we faced legitimate opponents, you’ll see it’s pretty clear. The 2013 Seahawks had to square off against 7 legit opponents. Two vs. SF and AZ, then games against Carolina, Indy, and New Orleans. The rest of the AFC South was a joke, the Rams were mediocre as usual, the rest of the NFC South was terrible, and the Giants and Vikings were God awful. Now, granted, those 7 games were against real tough teams – including the 49ers who were the clear Second Best Team In Football – but I don’t think last year’s run really compares. We kicked off our season with back-to-back great teams (and 3 in our first 5 games), but there was a huge lull in the middle where we played 1 good team in six weeks. THEN we had a bye week before catching the Saints at home! By the time we got through that powderpuff stretch, we were 11-1 and on cruise control the last four weeks as we finished up going 2-2, losing both of our difficult matchups in the process while still locking down the #1 overall seed.
In those 7 big games, we ended the regular season 4-3. We more than made up for it with the gauntlet we had to take down in the playoffs, as I would argue the Saints were the 3rd-best team in the NFC and probably the 5th-best team in the NFL. Then, we had to squeak by the 49ers again, before we slayed the best offensive team in NFL history. So, when you include playoffs, the Seahawks had 10 really hard teams (but, then again, when you’re in the playoffs, just about every game is hard).
In 2014, the Seahawks not only had to contend with a more difficult schedule, but they had all the other distractions away from the game. Just being a Super Bowl champion, for one. Having that target on your back. Getting everyone’s best game because they want so desperately to beat the best. Then, you’re talking about losing a sizable chunk of your depth because you just can’t afford to pay everyone. Starters like Tate, Giacomini, Browner, Clemons, and Bryant. Role players like Thurmond, McDonald, and Maragos. Key contributors from last year, playing for other teams. THEN, you’ve got guys getting paid in the offseason. It’s great for fans to see their favorite players locked up and happy, but you never know how that’s going to affect locker room chemistry. And, quite frankly, you never know how the players who’re getting paid will respond. Will they still have that desire? Will they still wake up at the crack of dawn every day and put in the work to maintain their level of excellence?
We know a little bit about how Marshawn Lynch felt about it, because he threatened to hold out and retire and all this stuff before getting a bump in pay. Still didn’t stop all the early-season chatter from the media that he was disgruntled and still thinking about retiring. Or that the team was fed up and ready to cut him loose after the year ended. Oh, and we can’t forget the whole Percy Harvin situation. What a shitshow THAT was.
Hashtag Russell Wilson Isn’t Black Enough.
All of this stuff, plus the usual smattering of injuries every team has to deal with. 3/5 of our offensive line missing significant time, Kam and Bobby and Maxie all missing time. Zach Miller and Brandon Mebane being lost for the year, along with a bunch of our young role players like Cassius Marsh and Jordan Hill and – most recently – Paul Richardson.
And, in the middle of all of that, if you look at the schedule, we faced 10 legitimate opponents (11 if you want to count Carolina, but I’m inclined to throw that entire division in the toilet where it belongs). We kicked off the season with three tremendous teams in Green Bay, San Diego, and Denver, before being saddled with the week 4 bye. You can say what you want about the Chargers, but they finished the season with a winning record and that was a game on the road. Plus, they were a much better team early in the year compared to their late-season swoon. I’m counting ’em.
Once you get past that point, there was an 8-game stretch that I’d pegged at the beginning of the season as the stretch where we’d need to make our hay. I didn’t see ANY of those teams being able to give us much of a game. As it turned out, the Cowboys were pretty great, the Chiefs were better than expected, and the Cardinals were 9-1 and three games ahead of us when we got to play them. I’m also counting the Chiefs as one of the legit teams as they ALSO finished the regular season with a winning record and that game was ALSO on the road. As it turned out, the most difficult part of the schedule – the last six weeks – turned out to be much easier than expected. But, I’m still counting Arizona and Philly as legit, because Arizona’s defense never quit this year, and Philly’s offense was still pretty solid even with Mark Sanchez. It’s debatable as to whether or not I should include the 49ers in this list, but I’m going to do it anyway. Granted, 8-8 is a pretty mediocre record, but we’re still talking about a roster that was comprised of most of the same parts that took that team to the NFC Championship Game last year and to the Super Bowl the year before, with the same coaching staff as well. When you lump in how they’re our most bitter rival and prioritize beating us over any other team, I’m saying that’s a legit matchup.
So, to recap, two against Arizona and Frisco, with solo games against GB, Den, SD, KC, Phi, & Dal. With a possible 11th if you want to count Carolina, but I’ll leave that up to you. And, in doing so, we went 7-3 (8-3 with the Panthers).
Of course, with the level of competition, you have to take into account the level of turmoil. Things were spiraling out of control as this team started out 3-3, playing four very good teams in that stretch, and losing a heartbreaker to a sub-par Rams team (who nevertheless managed to beat some pretty impressive teams this year on their way to a 6-10 record). As I said before, we were 6-4 when we played 9-1 Arizona. We pretty much needed to win out and get help. And we got that help by Arizona losing their top two quarterbacks; otherwise this season may have played out VERY differently. To elevate our game at the last possible moment, win six in a row to finish with the #1 seed yet again … I don’t know what else you can say. Just a remarkable job.
Then, with the playoffs, we’re talking about rematches against the Panthers and Packers. I don’t hold the Panthers in very high esteem, but I think the Pack ended up being the second-best team in the NFC this year (and probably third-best in the NFL). Of course, the Packers are always going to be some variation of good as long as Aaron Rodgers is playing. But, for once, they remained pretty healthy on both sides of the ball, and when that happens, the Packers are as formidable as any team. I don’t think this year’s Packers team was necessarily better than last year’s 49ers team, but they’re pretty close, and they sure as shit gave us a helluva game.
To cap off the season, we get to face the #1 team in the AFC, the New England Patriots. For the last 9 weeks, you could argue that the Seahawks and Patriots have been the top two teams in the league, so this is just as exciting as getting to play Denver was last year. To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and the Seahawks don’t get any respite in that regard.
I dunno, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m looking at it all through biased eyes because this year’s team is still fresh in my mind. But, I can’t see how you don’t find this year’s team much more impressive than last year’s, even if the level of talent isn’t quite as elite.