"Is Pete Carroll the best coach in the NFL?"
It's a question that, depending on what week it is, could have an entirely different answer.
Yet with a regular-season record of 11-5 it's hard to find much fault with what Carroll and by extension general manager John Schneider have accomplished in three full seasons in Seattle.
Earlier this week Danny O'Neil at The Seattle Times illustrated the progress Carroll and Schneider have made in constructing their current roster brick by brick:
Pete Carroll came to the Seahawks in 2010 as an epically successful college coach with a mediocre NFL head-coaching résumé and a whole country wondering how he was going to bridge that gap.
No one doubted the man's coaching chops. The question concerned personnel. Carroll was coming from one of the crown jewels in college football, USC, where he made top-five recruiting classes routine. But you can't talk your way into a talent advantage in the NFL, not with the salary cap and the draft order working to spread talent across the league's 32 teams.
That's what makes the assembly of these Seahawks under Carroll and general manager John Schneider so compelling. It hasn't just been about the draft. It hasn't just been free agency. And it most certainly hasn't been about Carroll collecting every NFL player who happened to have played for him at USC.
Prior to this season I was one of those skeptics. Even after the team "won" the division in his first year and started to collect talent and wins last season, I still had trouble believing the 'Hawks were capable of anything more than grabbing a wild-card spot this year until they got a legitimate franchise quarterback.
Russell Wilson, from day one, did everything asked of him and more in helping change the franchise.
That in itself was no small thing, but it required Carroll's belief in him going all the way back to May during the Seahawks rookie camp. Funny thing is that at the time, it seemed like Pete was simply trying to make the whole quarterback competition more spectacle than sport.
I was wrong as I grossly underestimated both men and perhaps a third.
When John Schneider came from Green Bay shortly after Pete Carroll came on board back in 2010, I wasn't sure whether he was simply going to take orders from Carroll or strike out on his own in taking over as the 'Hawks general manager.
Quite frankly I still not entirely sure where exactly Carroll ends and where Schneider begins, but what they're doing seems to be working quite well as the team has found the talent needed to win by leaving no stone unturned.
And perhaps what is most comforting in all of this is that for the moment, the Seahawks look like they're built to last with the young nucleus they have in place. Which in this day and age is special given the temptation to build for today and worry about tomorrow later.
That's not to say anyone should be complacent.
What the 'Hawks have this year is special when you consider how just when it seemed all was lost, they not only fought back, but did so with a vengeance with the crowning moment coming against San Francisco on Sunday night at CLink Field in Week 16 as they clinched a playoff berth.
In many ways it would be a shame to see that kind of energy and excitement come to end on Sunday afternoon in our nation's capitol.
Can Pete Carroll's 'Hawks go to Washington and win?
If Carroll is the best coach in the NFL, then he will need to prove it against a man with two Super Bowl rings as a head coach.
Back in Week 11, the Redskins were coming off their bye week with a record of 3-6 looking like a team with little to no chance of making the postseason, as the reigning world champion New York Giants had a 6-4 record and what seemed like firm control of the NFC East.
Yet with rookies Robert Griffin III at the controls and Alfred Morris running the football, Mike Shanahan's team rattled off seven straight wins to wrestle control away from the fading Giants and a lingering Dallas Cowboys squad to finish the season as NFC East Champions at 10-6.
Of all the head coaches active in the playoffs, Shanahan is the only one with a Super Bowl ring that Carroll hasn't beaten this season.
If you want to further validate Carroll's claim, the 'Hawks have been in every game this season to the very end win or lose with their biggest margin of defeating coming against the 49ers back in Week 7. Not too many teams still in contention can say that as have been beaten soundly at least once this season or were embarrassed by an inferior opponent.
So is Carroll the best?
He's certainly worthy of consideration and if the 'Hawks can go on the road and win Sunday, it sure would help his case.
Fact is the course of this season Carroll has really surprised me. At best, even if everything fell into place I didn't see this team being any better than 10-6 while barely sneaking into the playoffs...and that was just a few weeks ago.
An 11-5 record with the team continually getting stronger late in the season has made me a believer and that worries me.
Can the Seahawks continue to move the ball and score with authority?
If so, when paired with the defense, the 'Hawks are legitimately scary and could ride the tide all the way to New Orleans.
If that happens Carroll could join some pretty elite company in being one of only three men (the others being Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer) to win a college national championship and a Super Bowl—not to mention the fact he took a young team of his own creation and won three straight road games along the way.
That should quiet the critics once and for all.
Until then, let's just go one game at a time. First stop...Washington.