Seahawks Beat Panthers, Lost Earl Thomas

This fucking stinks.  Is it possible to put Kam, Bobby, Avril & Bennett in bubble wrap for the rest of the regular season and just take our chances with still making the playoffs and the 2-seed?

WHY CAN’T WE HAVE NICE THINGS?!?!?!

WHY CAN’T WE JUST HAVE OUR FULL TEAM FULLY HEALTHY AT ALL TIMES?!?!?!

Or, shit, how about fully fucking healthy for one fucking game?

The Seahawks beat the shitty Panthers 40-7.  Those 7 points weren’t even legitimate because the guy’s knee was down when he was short of the endzone, but they obviously didn’t have a proper angle to overturn it.  Cam Newton was suspended for the first series of the game for not wearing a tie while the team travelled to Seattle, which turned out to just be the first play of the game, which was an interception thrown by Derek Anderson that led to us scoring a field goal.

Russell Wilson had a pretty good game, 277 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.  Thomas Rawls had an explosive game with 106 yards on 15 carries and 2 TDs.  Tyler Lockett had a 75-yard run for a touchdown, as well as 63 yards receiving on 5 catches.  Graham, Baldwin, and Kearse all had over 60 yards receiving apiece, with Graham catching another TD.

The defense didn’t get a ton of pressure on Cam Newton when he finally entered the game, but they played sound fundamentally, and they were able to strip a fumble from Jonathan Stewart.  Newton was just off-target most of the day – aside from a pretty bomb to Ted Ginn for that phantom TD – and his receivers were harassed by our secondary for most of the day.  Wagner, Kam, Wright all stood out, as well as the return of Mike Morgan who really made his presence felt with that interception at the top of the game.  I also thought Shead had a solid all-around game as well.

But, what does it matter?  Earl collided with Kam, resulting in Earl breaking his leg.  It means he’s out for the year, which is just fucking great.  Steven Terrell came in and played all right in his place, though the Panthers were able to complete that 55-yard bomb to Ginn on the first play after Earl left the game, which is pretty ominous.

The Seahawks are 8-3-1, for now owners of the NFC’s #2 seed, with Dallas firmly entrenched at the top with an 11-1 record, and Detroit on our heels at 8-4.  Catching Dallas is a non-starter, but holding down the fort at #2 is well within our capabilities, particularly when you figure Detroit’s and Atlanta’s schedules the rest of the way are pretty difficult.

The one cool thing about having a tie on your record is you don’t have to obsess over tie-breaker scenarios like most of these other teams.  I can just shut my brain off and let the overall win/loss record do all the work.

I dunno, I’m sad about what’s gone down.  I’m sad about losing Earl.  And, quite frankly, I’m a little terrified that we have to go into Green Bay next Sunday where it’ll probably be snowing and Aaron Rodgers will probably be licking his chops at the thought of looking Steven Terrell off of a receiver running deep down the middle.

I’m also deeply concerned about this team’s depth.  No one wants Steven Terrell in there starting over Earl, but you REALLY don’t want to see who’s 3rd or 4th in line if Terrell goes down!  Particularly when you figure Kam Chancellor is pretty injury-prone in his own right.

Best not to think about that.  Better to wonder what the fuck Dallas did to deserve such amazing luck with injuries in their own right.  Hell, the one guy who DID get injured – Tony Romo – only opened the door for their next franchise quarterback to lead them to the best record in all of football!  FUCK ME GOD JUST KILL ME NOW I DON’T WANT TO LIVE IN THIS WORLD!!!

The Seattle At Carolina Preview

When you take them one game at a time, it doesn’t feel so ominous.  In a vacuum, these Seahawks are fully capable of winning a game in Minnesota.  In a vacuum, these Seahawks are fully capable of winning a game in Carolina.  And, in a vacuum, these Seahawks are fully capable of winning a game in Arizona OR a game in Green Bay.  But, jeez, when you line them all up in a row, knowing you have to do all this in back-to-back-to-back weeks, it starts to feel REALLY daunting.  Even though it’s just a series of three coin flips, one week apart, it’s just knowing that you have to win all three that sort of drives me batty.

Last week, it felt like a foregone conclusion that the Seahawks would advance.  Of course, the game ended up being a lot closer (and a lot closer to DISASTER) than I anticipated, but the better team did win and move on.  This week, as I’ve said repeatedly, feels like the Super Bowl.  I still think the Seahawks are the better football team, but they’ve got SO MUCH going against them.  At this point, fair or unfair, right or wrong, it’s going to depend on which Seahawks team shows up.  Will it be the team that struggled to find consistency in the first half of the season (and in recent games against the Rams & Vikings)?  Or, will it be the team running like a top, who has taken care of business against some pretty good opponents?

As a Seahawks fan in recent years, we’ve come to expect certain things.  We expect our defense to clamp down like a bear trap.  We expect varying levels of success out of our offense, with steady improvement as the game goes along.  This year has flipped the script a little bit.  The defense – while still tops in points allowed – isn’t quite what it has been in recent years.  It shows flashes, and sometimes pulls off entire games where it looks as dominant as ever.  But, other times, the game starts to get away from them.  Breakdowns happen.  Where once it was the Seahawks making their furious comebacks late in games, now it’s the other teams taking it to us.

I don’t know how you get more frustrating than that first Carolina game this year.  Let’s take a look back, blow by blow.

  • We traded punts on the first three drives of the game
  • On Carolina’s second possession, deep in their own territory, Cam Newton threw a pick to Earl Thomas at the Carolina 33 yard line.  The Seahawks ran four plays & had to settle for a field goal
  • On the next possession, Carolina ate up the rest of the first quarter, marching 80 yards with an equal mix of run & pass, for a TD
  • On the next possession, Seattle marched right back to score a TD, re-taking the lead 10-7, which is how the half ended after trading more punts
  • Carolina got the ball to start the 2nd half, went 3 & Out
  • On the next possession, Seattle scored a TD on two explosive pass plays to make it a 2-score game
  • Again, deep in their territory, Cam Newton threw a pick, returned to the Carolina 33 yard line.  The Seahawks went 3 & Out and settled for a long field goal to go up 20-7
  • On the next possession, Carolina marched 80 yards AGAIN, with an equal mix of run & pass, for a TD
  • The teams traded punts, then the Seahawks drove for a FG to again make it a 2-score game, 23-14
  • The teams again traded punts, then the Panthers engineered their third 80-yard TD drive, mostly on the arm of Cam Newton, to make it a 1-score game
  • On the next possession, the Seahawks went 4 & Out – marred by penalties & sacks, while only managing to take off less than 90 seconds of game clock
  • In a little under 2 minutes, the Panthers completed their comeback with their FOURTH 80-yard TD drive of the day, with Greg Olsen catching the go-ahead score on a broken coverage in the secondary

It was a good sign to see the team move the ball relatively effectively, as well as the defense forcing Cam Newton into two interceptions on the day.  But, the offense was a miserable 4/14 on third down (29% conversion), 1/3 in the red zone, and failed to convert either of those turnovers into touchdowns.  On top of that, I’m sorry, but that was a mind-boggling performance by the defense.  On Carolina’s four 80-yard TD drives, they ran 42 of their 72 overall plays, while taking up 18:23 of their 32:12 time of possession.  And, as I said, for the most part it was a healthy mix of run & pass, running for 135 yards and throwing for another 248 in total on the day.  We’re talking about a defense who – all year – only gave up 6.6 yards per pass attempt; Cam Newton managed 7.5.  And a defense who – all year – only gave up 3.6 yards per carry; Carolina managed 4.1.

Now, obviously, the Seahawks were missing some dawgs.  Bobby Wagner, Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lane, Marcus Burley, all sat out with injury.  And, of course, the notorious Cary Williams (who has been, without fail, the biggest fucking scapegoat I’ve EVER seen) still held his starting job at that time, and was getting picked on throughout.  Nevertheless, if I’m a member of the Seahawks defense, going into Carolina this weekend, I’m out for blood.  Our Week 6 performance was absolutely unacceptable.

For all the factors going against the Seahawks this weekend, there’s one positive in all this:  the revenge factor.  Coming into the 2015 season, the Seahawks had made Carolina our bitches time and time again.  Close, hard fought games, sure.  But, we always found a way to pull it out, and I’m sure that had to have driven them CRAZY.  It all came to a head in last year’s playoffs, where the Panthers came in and played pretty well for a team with a losing record.  But, we owned that fourth quarter, and pulled away when it mattered.  So, when they came back to Seattle in Week 6 with an undefeated record, against a somewhat reeling Seahawks team still trying to find its footing, they were not only prepared for the onslaught of the fans and the hugeness of the game, but they powered through and made us look silly in the fourth quarter, when that’s OUR time.  That’s when WE make YOU look silly!

So, now, here we are.  Underdogs in a playoff game for the first time since probably 2012.  Going into Big, Bad Carolina, the 15-1 juggernaut who couldn’t have had an easier path to the #1 seed.  The last taste we have in our mouths being that Week 6 embarrassment.  You’re telling me we don’t have a reason to be up for this game, outside of the obvious (this being the playoffs, win or go home, and all that)?  I think the Seahawks want to show Carolina – and the rest of the world – who the REAL top dawgs are.  We may have stumbled at times this year, but we’re STILL the champs.  And January is when we come to play our best!

***

Can I just step back for a second and say how much fun I think this all is?  On the one hand, yeah, it’s the playoffs and it’s nerve wracking as all get-out.  The further you advance, the more intense it becomes.  And LOSING in the playoffs?  I don’t know what’s worse.  For a good week or two or three or fifty (as is the case when you lose a Super Bowl like the Seahawks did last year), I just couldn’t feel any lower as a fan.  Depressed and angry and jealous and confused and depressed some more.  There are SO MANY drawbacks to being a sports fan, I sometimes wonder why it’s all worth it.

But, then we get to a week like this.  Seahawks at Panthers.  THIS is what being a fan is all about.  Remember how jacked up we all got when the Seahawks would face the Jim Harbaugh 49ers?  This feels just like that.  Maybe Ron Rivera isn’t as loathesome as The Douchebag (I actually respect the hell out of the guy, if I’m being honest); but I’m starting to come around on hating Cam Newton.  I don’t know if anyone can be as revolting as Colin Kaepernick kissing his own bicep after a touchdown, but Cam Newton and all his dabbing is a REAL close second in my book.  If I’m being perfectly honest, I do think a lot of the hate, in general, from non-Carolina fans throughout the country, is at least somewhat racially motivated.  I mean, when Tom Brady runs around like a maniac during his touchdown celebrations, mostly people just talk about how he’s a competitor and a fiery guy; but when Cam Newton does his thing, he’s a preening cunt.  I’m not going to be that guy who’s out here calling everyone a racist, but I think subliminally, there’s a little something to it.

All I know is, if he was my team’s franchise quarterback (and I knew nothing of what it’s like to have Russell Wilson), I’m sure I’d love Cam Newton to death.  But, he’s not on my team, and he plays on one of my team’s biggest rivals, so I’m starting to hate him just a little bit more.  It’s only healthy.

What’s fun about the Seahawks/Panthers matchup is that it IS a rivalry now.  We’ve played them at least once every year since Russell Wilson came into the league.  Five times overall.  The Seahawks won the first four matchups (including last season in the Divisional Round), and through that point, while the games were all close and highly competitive, it was a little bit like the Big Brother holding the little brother at arm’s length while he stands there flailing his fists wildly to no avail.  Our defense was the embodiment of “Stop Hitting Yourself!” when it came to forcing Cam Newton into untimely mistakes (untimely for the Panthers, anyway).  Then, the Panthers came into Seattle in Week 6 and totally pantsed us, and NOW it’s a true rivalry.  They stole our mojo, in the home of the 12’s, and rode that mojo to the best record in all of football.  Now, it’s on, and it couldn’t be more exciting.

***

If you’re a football fan, and you don’t necessarily have a hog in this race, I don’t see how you can look at the four games this weekend and NOT be looking forward to the Seahawks/Panthers matchup the most.  Kansas City/New England?  There’s a slim chance that game is competitive, but my money is on the team with the better quarterback.  I think the odds of that game being a blowout are VASTLY greater than of the game being interesting in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.  Green Bay/Arizona?  No way.  The Cards are going to CRUSH them into dust!  That might be the most boring game of the weekend.  Pittsburgh/Denver is the only game that might even approach the quality of our game, but there are a lot of reasons to think that might be an ugly affair.  Can Ben Roethlisberger throw the ball more than 10 yards in the air?  Does Peyton Manning have any juice left?  We could be looking at a matchup of the noodliest arms in the history of the league!  With Denver’s defense on a mission, if Ben doesn’t have it, I could see this being a rout in the Broncos’ favor.

Seattle/Carolina, that’s what’s up.

We’re talking about two teams who are as healthy as they could possibly be at this point in the season (not counting players on IR, of course; and assuming Marshawn Lynch is able to give it a go).  We’re talking about the MVP of the league (Cam) against the hottest quarterback in the league the last half of the season (Wilson, 25 TDs, 2 INTs in the last 8 games, including last week).  We’re talking about the #1 scoring offense (Carolina) against the #1 scoring defense (Seattle).  The #2 rush offense (Carolina) against the #1 rush defense (Seattle).  A rematch of last year’s remarkable Divisional playoff game, only this time played in the other team’s stadium.

And, when you flip it around, it’s still pretty damn close.  Seattle was the #4 scoring offense; Carolina was the #6 scoring defense.  Seattle was the #3 rushing offense; Carolina was the #4 rushing defense.  Seattle’s got big play-makers on both sides of the ball (Wilson, Lynch, Baldwin, Bennett, Avril, Wagner, LOB); Carolina’s got big play-makers on both sides of the ball (Newton, Stewart, Olsen, Kuechly, Davis, Short, Norman).  Our strengths are their strengths; this should prove to be a massively entertaining ordeal.

The great equalizer in all this, oddly enough, will be Seattle’s offensive line.  In that Week 6 game, Russell Wilson was sacked 4 times, but harassed all day.  The Panthers had 7 QB hits and another 6 tackles for loss.  Russell Okung also had a pretty costly holding penalty that negated a big run by Lynch, helping lead to that drive stalling.  Over the majority of the second half of the season, as Russell Wilson’s performance has improved, so has the offensive line’s.  Everyone returned for last week’s game, and no new injuries cropped up.  On top of that, Luke Willson is returning, who should provide a boost over the other tight ends on the roster when it comes to blocking.

If the Seahawks’ offensive line plays to the best of its abilities, the Seahawks shouldn’t have any trouble improving upon their third down conversion rate, moving the football, and scoring touchdowns over field goals (when compared to our Week 6 contest).  When the Seahawks are clicking, as they’ve been known to do from time to time, there’s no team in the game that can stop them.

But, when the Seahawks make mistakes.  When they let the pressure overwhelm them, when they allow lots of hurries and sacks, when they get penalized at inopportune times, then the game gets all mucked up, and before you know it, there we are at the end of the game sweating out another nailbiter.

As far as weather is concerned, we’re looking at the low-to-mid 40s come kickoff.  Says there’s a 20% chance of rain, but overall looks pretty reasonable.  Nothing too much to be concerned with there.

The thing I can’t help but shake is the comparison to the 2012 playoffs.  That was our first year with Russell Wilson, but we still blew it in the first half, and ultimately blew it at the game’s end.  Getting over THIS hump feels like the more difficult challenge than the hump that would await (likely in Arizona); just like getting over the hump in Atlanta in 2012 proved to be more difficult than it would have been to beat the 49ers that year.  Losing in the Divisional Round is pretty bad in its own right, because it leaves you with so many more What If’s.  Mainly:  what if we’d won and gotten a chance to play in the NFC Championship Game?

We can’t lose this one.  And, I don’t THINK we will, but I’m not nearly as confident as I was last week.  What everyone is banking on is that the Seahawks are battle tested.  7 of our 16 regular season games were against playoff teams; we were 3-4 in those games.  The Panthers, by contrast, only faced off against 4 playoff teams in their 16 regular season games; they went 4-0 in those games.  Obviously, the most impressive win was against Seattle IN Seattle.  Two of those games were against Houston and Washington (both at home), who were two of the shakiest divisional winners of all time.  The other was also at home, against a struggling and injury-plagued Packers team.  Their schedule, to be quite honest, deserves all the ridicule it gets.  But, to be fair, they did get the job done, and beat the teams they were supposed to beat.

And, as we all know, anything can happen in a 1-game sample.

So close, and yet still so far away.  This is the week where the Seahawks can prove whether they truly earned the title of Team Nobody Wants To Play in this year’s playoffs, or if they’ll just be another in a long line of cautionary tales, about the struggles that good teams can face when they don’t get one of the top two seeds and home field advantage.

I’ve got Seahawks 33, Panthers 27, but like I said before, I’m not confident at all.

Time To Kick It Into Higher Gear, Seahawks

I don’t know much about cars; do you really kick gears?

The Seahawks did a great and impressive thing last week:  they stepped toe to toe with one of the better offenses in the league, and they came out on top.  When you look at the probable major players for the NFC playoffs, you’re going to have to overcome some impressive offenses:  Arizona, Green Bay, and Carolina (even though nobody thinks of them as having an impressive offense, go really look at the numbers they’re putting up this year with essentially no one but Cam).  It’s going to be vital in some of these potential playoff matchups (if, indeed, that’s where the Seahawks end up) to have our offense clicking to match theirs.

On the flipside, we have this week’s matchup against the Vikings.  They DON’T have an impressive offense.  In fact, it’s pretty feeble.  It’s Adrian Peterson and A LOT of game managing out of their quarterback.  But, their defense is rock solid in just about every aspect.  When you look at teams like the Vikings, Arizona and Carolina again, and to a lesser extent the Falcons, you’re going to see some good defenses in the playoffs as well.  Getting our guys going against these stout fronts will make all the difference in getting back to a third Super Bowl in three years.

Finally, the big thing about this week’s game is that this is the last really good team we’re going to face until the playoffs (if you think like I do, that the Cards will be resting the bulk of their starters for the bulk of that game in week 17, as they’ll have the 2-seed wrapped up by then).  I see this as the true litmus test of the second half of this season.  To date, until defeating the Steelers, the Seahawks had lost every game against every quality opponent they faced.  They’re now 1-4 in those games, with – as I mentioned – one final test to go.  If these are the same Seahawks we watched struggle to a 4-5 start, then I would put all my money down on the Seahawks LOSING this weekend in another heartbreaker.  BUT, if they’ve somehow turned a corner (like they did towards the end of 2014 and 2012), then the Vikings will be just another mediocre opponent we’ll have no trouble defeating by 7-10 points.

The formula couldn’t be simpler:  stop Adrian Peterson and you stop the Vikings.  At that point, it’s just a matter of getting to 17-20 points to give yourself enough of a cushion to withstand any late-game heroics.  Do I think the Seahawks are capable of doing that?  Mmm, I think anything’s possible.

As I mentioned in my review of the Steelers game, I like our defense to make a big leap forward in the coming weeks.  I like Shead as our other starting corner.  I like getting Lane back and him having a full game under his belt.  I think we’re JUST starting to get our groove back as a whole, defensively.  But, I think it’s highly probable that we’re not giving Teddy Bridgewater enough credit for limiting mistakes and getting the ball into the hands of playmakers.  The Vikings have a good, young receiver (Stefon Diggs) and a quality, underrated tight end (Kyle Rudolph), and I think they’ll be able to move the ball through the air just enough.  I also think it’s impossible to stop Adrian Peterson for a full 60 minutes.  We’ve got a very good run defense, but then again, is it good because of the long line of stiffs we’ve been playing against?  Take a look:

  1. The Rams, pre-Gurley (Benjamin Cunningham led with 45 yards on 16 carries)
  2. The Packers, featuring Fat Eddie Lacy (James Starks actually led with 95 yards on 20 carries)
  3. The Bears, featuring Jimmy Clausen & no Alshon Jeffery (Forte, with 74 yards on 20 carries)
  4. The Lions, ’nuff said (Ameer Abdullah with 33 yards on 13 carries)
  5. The Bengals, featuring Disappointing Jeremy Hill, and playing from way behind (Giovani Bernard with 80 yards on 15 carries)
  6. The Panthers, first solid rushing team (Jonathan Stewart with 78 yards on 20 carries)
  7. The 49ers, ’nuff said (Carlos Hyde with 40 yards on 11 carries)
  8. The Cowboys, no Romo (Darren McFadden with 64 yards on 20 carries)
  9. The Cardinals, decent rushing team (Chris Johnson with 58 yards on 25 carries)
  10. The 49ers again, this time no Hyde (Shaun Draughn with 37 yards on 12 carries)
  11. The Steelers, primarily a passing team (DeAngelo Williams with 29 yards on 8 carries)

I mean, really, LOOK at that list!  Carolina ran the ball well, aside from J-Stew.  Starks had a solid game.  Bernard burned us pretty good at times.  But, NONE of those guys are even close to what a healthy A.P. can do.  Are we SURE the Seahawks’ run defense is that good?  We’ll find out this weekend.  If it isn’t as good as we thought, we’ll be in big trouble.

Lose this game and it’s not necessarily the end of the world.  Drops us to 6-6, with three easy games (at an injury-riddled Baltimore Ravens; home vs. Cleveland; home vs. the Rams – who we always beat at home) and another potentially-easy game against the Cards.  10-6 would still be possible with a loss this weekend.

But, a loss also leads to shifting expectations.  I don’t think we’d have any business believing that this is a championship team.  If we can’t beat the Vikings, what would make us believe that we’d beat a try-hard Cardinals team, or a still-good Packers team, or a flawless Panthers team?  We’d be making the playoffs just for the sake of being there, and we’d probably get bounced in the first round by the winner of the NFC North.  Especially if that team is the Packers and we have to go back to Green Bay again, this time in the bitter cold.

A victory in Minnesota this weekend, however, puts a total re-set on the season.  It would mean the Seahawks ARE legit, and they HAVE flipped the switch at the exact right time.  At that point, I’d expect the Seahawks to win out, nab that 5-seed, and go into the winner of the NFC East and DESTROY them with ease.  My excitement level for the final four weeks will be off the charts.

As a closing aside, the last few years we’ve been talking about the great dynasties of past decades.  The Vikings of the 60s, the Steelers of the 70s, the 49ers of the 80s, the Cowboys of the 90s, the Patriots of the 00s; but, one “dynasty” I’ve always had a soft spot for is the Buffalo Bills of the early 90s.  Yeah yeah, I know, they lost four straight Super Bowls, and from a historical perspective, they’re laughingstocks.  But, do you know how IMPOSSIBLE it is for a team to go to four straight Super Bowls?  The Dolphins went to three in the early 70s (winning two), everyone else it’s two in a row or less.  Just getting to four straight Super Bowls, even winning none of them (though, coming to within a missed field goal of winning that first one) is an all time miracle of professional football.  That’s being consistently good enough to be dominant year after year, while at the same time catching fire in the playoffs.  And the Bills weren’t beating up on a down conference, either!  They had Marino’s Dolphins, Esiason’s Bengals, Moon’s Oilers, Schottenheimer’s Chiefs, and Elway’s Broncos to contend with year-in and year-out.  Some of the greatest players and coaches of all time coached in this era, and still the Bills went to back-to-back-to-back-to-back Super Bowls.  Unreal!

I’m not making an argument that I’d trade places with those teams or anything, but I like the idea of the Seahawks making a serious run at going to four straight.  Well, this would be year three.  In years 1 and 2, the Seahawks were division winners and top seeds in their conference.  In years 1 and 2 for Buffalo during their run, the Bills were division winners and top seeds in their conference.  In year 3 for the Bills, they had some struggles and finished second in their division.  But, they nabbed the top Wild Card slot, won a crazy playoff game where they came back from being down by 32 points (still the greatest comeback of all time), and scratched and clawed their way back to their third Super Bowl (knocking off the #1 seed in the Divisional Round, then beating their divisional rival in the Championship Game).

This year’s Seahawks team looks like it’s headed for a Wild Card spot.  We already had our huge “comeback game” against the Packers last year, but who’s to say we don’t win some crazy Wild Card game this year, face the Panthers in the Divisional Round, and then have to go down to Arizona for the NFC Championship Game?

For what it’s worth, that fourth Bills team easily won its division and reclaimed their #1 seed in the playoffs.  So, we have that to look forward to, if my prophecy comes to fruition (except, no more getting beat in the Super Bowl, thx).

Why I Worry About The Carolina Panthers

The date:  May 7, 1994.

The location:  Seattle, Washington.

The situation:  Number 1 seed from Seattle in a do-or-die game against a bottom-feeder in the playoffs.

The matchup:  Seattle Supersonics vs. Denver Nuggets.

The result:  A 98-94 overtime defeat.

I won’t rehash the specifics, nor will I pull the iconic photo/video, as I’m sure any of you around at the time must be picturing the giant’s massive hands clutching the basketball while laying on the court, laughing maniacally.  I’ll just say this:  in 1994, the Seattle Supersonics were the consensus Best Team In The NBA (thanks to Michael Jordan “retiring”).  And, with that defeat, the Seattle Supersonics became the first Number 1 seed to ever lose to a Number 8 seed.  While that feat has happened a number of times since then, everyone will always remember the first time.  That’s just the way it works.  Dikembe Mutombo may or may not ever be a Hall of Famer, but he’ll always be remembered for this achievement.

The 1993/1994 Supersonics weren’t the best squad in team history, but you could argue that the 1994 playoffs were our best chance at winning an NBA title in my lifetime (dating back to 1981).  We had a 2-year window without Michael Jordan lurking in the Eastern Conference.  We blew year-one of that window in spectacular fashion.

As a fan of Seattle sports teams, I don’t know if I’ll ever get over my insecurities.  The Sonics teams from 1993 thru 1998 were some of the best teams in the league.  In the 1993 playoffs, we reached the Western Conference Finals as a 3-seed, only to get screwed out of our shot at a championship by the refs in Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns.  In 1994, we had the best record in the NBA by five games over second place.  In 1995, we had the 4-seed and again lost in the first round (though, admittedly, that team was pretty flawed).  In 1996, we were back to being the best in the Western Conference, our regular season record only overshadowed by the record-setting Bulls who went 72-10.  We would go on to lose in the Finals that year to those very same Bulls, and I’ll go to my grave believing that was the greatest team in NBA history.  In 1997, the Sonics were a 2-seed in the West, losing to the Rockets in the semis, 4-3.  Finally, in 1998, the Sonics were again a 2-seed in the West, losing to Shaq and the Lakers in 5 games in the semis.

That was the entirety of our championship window.  It was a spectacular six seasons, with the Sonics going 357-135 (that’s an average record of 59.5-22.5 per season).  The Sonics fired George Karl after that 1997/1998 season and fell into a death spiral shortly after.  And, what did we have to show for it?  Two oustings in the first round, two defeats in the second round, two trips to the Conference Finals, and a meager six games in the NBA Finals (with only two Finals victories).  Until these Seahawks teams under Pete Carroll came around, those were the greatest teams I’d ever rooted for in my lifetime.  And, yet, a lot of flukey shit led to that championship window closing without a dent in the history books.

***

The date:  October 22, 2001.

The location:  Bronx, New York.

The situation:  Team from Seattle with the best-ever regular season record in a do-or-die game against a team that won 21 fewer games that year.

The matchup:  Seattle Mariners vs. New York Yankees.

The result:  A 12-3 defeat to lose the series in five games.

I’ll give you that this isn’t really apples to apples when compared to the heartbreak of having a #1 seed lose to a #8 seed; but, we’re talking about the greatest regular season record in MLB history!  116 wins!  The second place team in the AL West – Oakland – won over 100 games and was FOURTEEN games back in the standings!

The Mariners had a championship window from 1995-2003.  In that time, we had four playoff appearances, losing in the ALCS three times and losing in the ALDS once.  In this 9-year window, there were two losing seasons and three other winning seasons where the Mariners DIDN’T make the playoffs (including back-to-back 93-win seasons where we were nipped by superior Athletics teams).

Baseball’s a different beast than most other sports.  It requires enduring success through a too-long regular season, followed by a hot spurt through a large handful of post-season games.  In the NBA, the best team almost always wins it all, thanks to the sheer number of teams granted admission into the playoffs and the number of games they’re supposed to play in every round.  In baseball, all you have to do is make it in and let the chips fall where they may.  The best team DOESN’T always win in MLB, that’s what you gotta remember.

The 2001 Mariners were the best team in franchise history, hands down.  And yet, they were made into mincemeat by the Yankees, who were “built for the post-season”.

Like the Sonics before them, this championship window by the Mariners closed with a whimper.  There hasn’t been a playoff team for the Mariners SINCE 2001.  While many believe 2015 will be the beginning of another Mariners championship window, that still remains to be seen.  162 games need to be played, against some fierce AL West competition.  So, we’ll see.

***

The Seahawks play the Panthers on January 10, 2015.  The Seahawks are the top seed in the NFC, and a consensus favorite to reach the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots of the AFC.  The Panthers are just the second team with a losing record to make the playoffs.  They defeated an injury-plagued Cardinals team in the first round.

Why am I worried about this game?  It’s the same reason why I SHOULD have been worried about the ’94 Nuggets and the 2001 Yankees.  Truth be told, that Nuggets series was my first real taste of the brutality that is being a sports fan.  There’s A LOT of heartache for not that much elation.  As a 13 year old basketball fan just starting to garner interest in the sport and follow it with some knowledge of the game, I was probably overwhelmingly confident in the Sonics going all the way.  Having the rug ripped out from under me was the start of a long, painful decline into the twisted wizard you see before you.  Until the Seahawks threw off the shackles I’d had wrapped around my mind in last year’s Super Bowl, I would go into these types of games EXPECTING to lose.  And, honestly, that feeling never really goes away.  I’m an abused pet living with new, kinder owners.  They’ve proven to be caring, loving people, but at the same time I still wince whenever an arm or a voice is raised.

The Seahawks SHOULD win this game.  If I were a more confident man, I’d go so far as to say the Seahawks WILL win this game.  In the entirety of the NFL playoff teams, the Panthers are the second-best option I’d choose for a Seahawks opponent (behind only the defeated Cardinals and their Lindley-esque shit offense).  While there is cause for real concern about this Panthers team (the defense is improved over the last month-plus, the rushing attack is improved with the return of Jonathan Stewart), it’s pretty obvious that this team is the most eminently beat-able in all of the NFC.  I was positively outraged at the notion that they’d go into Green Bay to play the Packers in the second round if Detroit had held on to beat Dallas last week.  Green Bay would throttle them by 40 points!  And WE’D have to battle a nasty defensive line of the Lions and a potentially explosive offense if they ever got their shit together.

As a quick aside:  don’t you think the #1 seed should be able to choose its opponent for the Divisional Round of the playoffs, pending the results of the Wild Card Round?  Why should we have to play an 11-5 Lions team (had they won) over a 7-8-1 Panthers team, simply because the Panthers were deemed to be a 4-seed while the superior Lions team a 6-seed?  When the NFL gets its own shit together and fixes the playoff system, maybe let’s make this a priority as well as never letting a team with a losing record host a playoff game, huh?

Anyway, getting back, my insecure fan-self is a little encouraged by the fact that there has already been a losing-record playoff team who defeated a playoff team with a superior record.  In fact, these loser teams are 2-1 in the playoffs, thanks to the 2010 Seahawks paving the way by defeating the Saints before going on to lose to the Bears in Chicago the following week.  BUT, what hasn’t happened – and what is rocking me to my very core as I sit and anxiously await tomorrow night’s game – is one of these loser teams going on the road and winning in the Divisional Round.

From the 1980s up until the Seahawks Super Bowl victory last year, there has been a bevy of reasons why Seattle sports teams have been laughingstocks.  Take, for instance, the first 20-or-so years of the Mariners playing professional baseball.  Or, the Seahawks almost moving to Los Angeles.  Or the Sonics signing Jim McIlvaine.  Or the Sonics drafting an endless string of worthless centers.  Or the Mariners getting crushed by the Yankees in the ALCS in back-to-back years.  Or the Seahawks getting referee’d to death in Super Bowl XL.  Or the Sonics being sold & uprooted after 40-some-odd years.  Or the best team in Seattle for the longest time being the women’s professional basketball team.  Or the Mariners plowing through a million managers over the last decade.  Or the fiasco with the Seahawks at the end of Holmgren’s tenure.  Or, the fact that all three franchises had – at one time or another – some of THE worst owners/general managers in all of professional sports (Ken Behring, Jeff Smulyan, Howard Schultz, Lincoln/Armstrong, Wally Walker, Tim Ruskell, Bill Bavasi).

I could go on and on with that list.  The 2013 Seahawks championship team has done the lord’s work in rectifying some of our past indiscretions.  But, a defeat to the Panthers a year later would do absolutely everything to undo all of that goodwill.

This current Seahawks unit is in the midst of a championship window that started in 2012 with a surprise late-season run into the playoffs.  When this window closes remains to be seen, but I think we can all agree it will be various degrees of open as long as Russell Wilson and the core is intact and still playing at a high level.  Whether that’s 5-10 years or more, the fact of the matter is:  these championship windows don’t grow on trees.  They can close in an instant and they may never reopen again in our lifetimes.  We can’t take these seasons for granted!

The Seahawks wrangled one championship and were 30-some-odd seconds away from fighting the 49ers for a second championship in the playoffs two years ago.  They currently sit poised in the catbird seat:  top seed in the NFC, with either Green Bay or Dallas being forced to come all the way out here in a potential NFC Championship showdown.  In spite of an early-season loss to the Cowboys at CenturyLink, we match up really well against both of those teams.  More importantly, WE’RE different than we were back in October.  I’ll be a lot more confident if we can just get this Divisional Round game out of the way.

The thing with the Panthers is:  they match up pretty well with us.  Earlier this year, we scratched and clawed our way to a 13-9 victory.  It took a late 4th quarter drive to finally score a touchdown and pull it out.  In the 2013 season opener, we scratched and clawed our way to a 12-7 victory.  It took a 4th quarter drive to finally score a touchdown; and a late 4th quarter fumble recovery to pull it out.  In 2012, we scratched and clawed our way to a 16-12 victory.  It took a late 3rd quarter drive to finally score a touchdown; a late 4th quarter goalline stand by our defense; and a later 4th quarter fumble recovery to pull it out.  Margin of victory for those three games:  4 1/3 points.  In the NFL, that’s nothing.

The notch in our belt is that all three of those games were on the road, in Carolina.  It’s notoriously difficult to win on the road, so you cherish any victory, even some ugly-ass shit like those games I just mentioned.  This game is in Seattle.  In the evening.  In front of what may be the rowdiest crowd we’ve seen all year (or, at least, since the week 1 showdown against the Packers).

Another notch in our belt is the level of competition the Panthers have beaten to get to this point.  The Panthers needed a 4-game winning streak to even make the playoffs.  If they would’ve lost any of these games, they would’ve been eliminated.  In those games, they faced the Saints, the Bucs, the Browns, and the Falcons.  The Saints had one of the worst defenses in football; they surrendered 41 points to the Panthers in New Orleans.  The Bucs were the very worst team in the NFL, earning the #1 draft pick in this year’s draft; they lost by 2 points to these very same Panthers.  The Browns were going with Johnny JamBoogie at quarterback, who left injured late in the first half; with Hoyer coming in in relief, the Browns would go on to lose by only 4 points to these very same Panthers.  The Falcons were just an absolute trainwreck on both sides of the football for most of this season, yet they would have made the playoffs with a win over the Panthers in week 17; they surrendered 34 points to the Panthers in Atlanta.  And, to top it all off, the Panthers hosted the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs last week, taking full advantage of the Lindley-pocalypse (Apoca-Lindlypse?) to get to this point.

Not that the Seahawks had all that difficult of a road to hoe in getting the top seed the final six weeks of the season (only two playoff teams faced, and both of those teams were the Carson Palmer-less Cardinals), but I’d say we’ve looked MUCH more impressive in getting to this point.

Here’s the bottom line:  the Seahawks have the best defense in football.  Yes, we’re particularly good against the pass, but we’re also among the best against the run (indeed, we’re THE best against the run of the remaining playoff teams, but that’s neither here nor there).  If we can prevent the Panthers from gashing us in the run game, they should stand no chance.  On the flipside, while they have a good front seven, they’re not unstoppable.  We should be able to do what we want to do on the ground, while at the same time taking advantage of holes in their secondary.  An important thing to note is this game features the two very best middle linebackers in all of football with Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner.  Overall, though, the Seahawks have MUCH more talent from top to bottom than the Panthers.  In fact, the Seahawks hold a distinct advantage in nearly every position group.  And, if all that wasn’t enough, Cam Newton is a staggering bundle of injuries being held together by duct tape and painkillers.  There is ZERO reason why the Seahawks should lose this game.

And yet, it’s not entirely impossible.  There was zero reason why the 1994 Supersonics should lose to the Nuggets in five games.  There was zero reason why the 2001 Mariners should fail to make the World Series.  Sometimes, shit just happens.  Sometimes, a matchup materializes that goes against everything one team stands for.  Sometimes, players just have a bad day.

The Panthers have been a tough matchup for the Seahawks for the last three years now.  Regardless of the fact that those prior three games were all played in Carolina, we’re still talking about a mini version of ourselves.

  • Mobile quarterbacks
  • Unheralded offensive lines
  • Lack of game-breaking talent in the receiving corps
  • Tough, hard-nosed running backs
  • Underrated and stout defensive lines
  • Freakishly athletic linebackers
  • Mostly-conservative gameplans & coaches (in spite of Ron’s riverboat ways in 2013 and Pete’s alleged “big balls”)

In the NFL, it only takes one bad game to derail an entire season.  That in and of itself should be enough to terrify us to no end.  I don’t necessarily fear the Cowboys/Packers because I think we match up exceedingly well against them.  Their defenses aren’t anything special, and their offensive attacks play right into our L.O.B. hands.

But, the Panthers pose a tough matchup BECAUSE they’re so similar to us.  Because their defense can harass Russell Wilson and potentially knock him out of the game.  The Panthers – more than any other team remaining in these playoffs – have the capability to hold our offense in check.  And, if they do that, and it comes down to a battle of who wins the fourth quarter, then you’re looking at no better than a flip of a coin.

I don’t like that.  And neither should you.  We JUST have to get past this one game and I’ll feel more at ease.  The thing is, I don’t think anyone’s taking this game seriously.  I know, for the most part, fans are already booking plans for the NFC Championship Game.  But, they’re going to feel pretty damn stupid if we reach the end of Saturday night, with the Panthers celebrating on our field like the Nuggets did on our court 20-some-odd years ago.

Here’s to hoping the Seahawks take this game a little more seriously than the 12th Man.  If they don’t, we’ll be looking at the absolute worst defeat in franchise history, and a defeat far surpassing those aforementioned Sonics & Mariners achievements of yore.  2014 will be just another drop in the bucket of Seattle being Sports Hell.

The Seahawks Should Put Up A Better Fight Against Carolina

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  You probably saw some or all of that game last week; at the very least you either saw some highlights or read about it.  Carolina went into the home of the undefeated Atlanta Falcons and took them to the very BRINK.  Carolina took the ball, up by 1, with two and a half minutes left to play.  Two plays later, Carolina had a fresh set of downs and Atlanta had one less time out at the two minute warning.  Two plays after that, Carolina bled the last remaining time out from the Falcons and needed two measly yards to win the game.  Cam Newton ran that ball those two yards and a little bit more before the ball was knocked out of his hand by an opposing helmet.  Carolina recovered the fumble, but the result of the play was a 4th down.

Now, I would argue that a young team, with a second-year head coach, coming off of a 6-10 campaign, with a chance to go 2-2 on the season, needing only 1 yard to make that happen while you’re on the opponent’s 45 yard line … when you’d run for 199 yards to that point in the game on 5.7 yards per carry … maybe it would have been smarter to just go for the fucking yard on fourth down.  Show some fucking BALLS!

But, they didn’t.  And somehow, they managed to down the punt on the 1 yard line.  The rest is Matt Ryan and Roddy White making their defense (and their defensive-minded head coach) look absolutely idiotic and inept.

One yard.  Carolina was one yard away from defeating the best team in the NFL on the road!  And I’m supposed to come on here and tell you the Seahawks are going to fly across the country – a week after flying halfway across the country – and beat that team?

You’re damn fuckin’ ass right I’m going to tell you that!

That Carolina defense couldn’t stop ME!  That probably doesn’t mean much since you probably don’t know me or have never met me, so let me paint you a picture:  I write a sports blog.  I write the whole fucking thing.  This one, that you’re reading now.  I write these words.  That’s almost literally all I do.  That and booze and some light masturbation.

This isn’t the worst defense in the world; in fact, on a per-game yardage-allowed average, there are 8 teams in the NFL alone that are worse than the Panthers.  But, this is by FAR the worst defense the Seahawks have played this season.  They give up 394 yards per game!  259 in the air and 135 on the ground.  This is what I’m talking about.

(and, for the record, the Cowboys are 4th best in the NFL at 277.5 yards per game; Green Bay is 9th best at 314 yards; and Arizona is 17th at 357 yards.  The Seahawks are 2nd best, but that’s neither here nor there)

There aren’t enough Rodney Dangerfield jokes to describe how little respect I’m giving this Panthers defense.  Which means yes, I think our offense can easily eclipse the 20-point barrier they’ve had such trouble surpassing thus far.

That just leaves the Carolina offense.  Can we stop the three-headed monster at running back (Stewart, Williams and Cam)?  And can we fustigate Newton enough so he’s not throwing for 400 yards against us?

Well, we have the 2nd-best rushing defense in the league, so my guess is we’re going to load the shit out of the box and take our chances on the outside.  I think this coaching staff figures out a way to pressure Cam just enough to force him into some very characteristic turnovers.  I think our corners shut down Steve Smith just like we did back in the NFC title game in 2005.  I think with their offense being one-dimensional (and that one dimension not being all that breathtaking), they don’t stand a chance.

I expect a lot of boos from the home crowd and I even expect a Derek Anderson appearance.

34-14.  That’s my guess.

Based on last week (Carolina looking good, Seattle looking terrible), you probably think I’m nuts.  But, look at it this way:  those were divisional games.  You know why divisional games are always wacky?  Because you play everyone in your division twice a year!  They know you and you know them.  You throw things like home field advantage and point spreads out the window in those games because anything can happen!

We haven’t played Carolina in two years.  We’re completely different and they’re completely different.  We have a couple things we do extremely well (defense and running the football), they pretty much just have the one thing they do well (running the football), but that goes in direct conflict with our very best attribute:  stopping the run.  It’s no contest.

Sleep in late on Sunday, Seahawks fans.  Relax.  Maybe crack open a beer around noon.  It’s going to be an enjoyable, stress-free Sunday afternoon.  I’d bet my farm on it.

The Carolina Panthers: The Best 1-10 Team In The NFL

Saying nothing everything of the fact that they’re the ONLY 1-10 team in the NFL.

If you ranked every team on a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 was the best NFL team this year, last week’s Kansas City team would be about a 6.  MAYBE a 7.  Conversely, the Panthers are a -12.

It’s a REALLY good thing this is Apple Cup week, though, because otherwise the big sports story in Seattle would be:  “The Entire City Shits Its Pants Over The Most Frightening 1-10 Team In History.”  You know morale is low when everyone thinks the Seahawks are much closer on that 1 to 10 scale to Carolina than we are to the Chiefs.  But, that’s what happens when you can’t run the ball, when your passing game is entirely dependant upon an injured Mike Williams, and you just got shredded last week in your home stadium by two guys.

Well, here’s the deal Seattle!  I’m here to tell you right now you have nothing to worry about!  We ARE going to beat these guys!  Because 1. they have the worst offense I’ve ever seen, 1-a. they’re starting Jimmy Clausen, 1-b. they can’t run the ball even when they HAD the two-headed monster of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (the former having been sent to IR purgatory) because 1-c. their offensive line is considerably worse than last year and 1-d. their play-calling is attrocious. 

Here’s a hint, Carolina:  when your quarterback stinks (Delhomme, Moore, Clausen, St. Pierre) RUN THE BALL.  Run it 40 times a game!  Your best bet is to chew through as much clock as possible, even if you’re only averaging 2 yards per carry; RUN, THAT, SHIT!

The only reason Carolina isn’t considered hands down the worst team in the NFL is because their defense isn’t the apocalypse; for some reason a team with a terrible defense is considered much much worse than a team with a terrible offense.  But look, there’s a reason every desperate guy who plays fantasy football chooses the Team Defense vs. Carolina; it’s guaranteed money.  Carolina has scored more than 20 points just twice (23 both times) and they’re averaging slightly less than 13 points per game.

And hear me now!  If you’re concerned because they racked up 23 against Cleveland last week, just take those Panther dicks out of your mouths and understand that Jake Delhomme is the worst quarterback in the NFL and threw a pick-six because he ALWAYS throws a pick-six.  There’s a reason why the worst team in the NFL (Carolina) cut Jake Delhomme, and that’s it.

One could argue that they’ve faced probably the toughest schedule in the NFL (the South has 3 winning teams, on top of playing the AFC North as well as the Bears and Giants), but they haven’t even been remotely competitive in most of their games (the lone win was against the 49ers … NFC West, go figure).  And, to top off everything I’ve just said, they’re flying out here cross-country, playing in a hostile environment that’s likely to be super cold and potentially rainy.  I like our chances.

Seahawks in a rout.  Now pull your panties out of their bunches and get ready for the Apple Cup of all Apple Cups.