Everyone has analyzed why the team has been so bad; injuries, no running game, letting Mike Holmgren leave, adapting to a new head coach, Steve Hutchinson’s "poison pill," Tim Ruskell’s decisions, and so on.
People are trying to find the magic formula to get the franchise back to the period when they made the playoffs five straight years, including four division titles, and appeared in their first Super Bowl.
The thing is, there is no magic ingredient. It’s staring them right in the face: the NFC West.
Let me explain.
It’s no fluke that Seattle’s change in fortunes coincided with the realignment of the NFL to an eight-division league for the start of the 2002 season. Of course, moving to Qwest Field also benefited, as the team has won 67 percent of their games there, but it takes more than a new stadium and a loud crowd to help a team win.
A strong defense helps, but this doesn’t apply to Seattle. The best effort they’ve had since 2002 was in their Super Bowl season, conceding an average of 316.8 yards per game, good for only 16th in the NFL. The points conceded was better—16.9 per game, for seventh in the league.
In total, the Seahawks have allowed 341.6 yards and 21.1 points per game during the last seven seasons. (For the record, Seattle has averaged 39 sacks and 16 interceptions per year during this same period.) Overall a distinctly ordinary return, that still doesn't explain the team’s accomplishments in recent times.
What about the west coast offense, which Holmgren employed during his reign in Seattle? Not exactly. Just like the defense, their best year was in 2005, when Seattle led the league in points and finished second in yardage on the way to Detroit.
Again though, during 2002-'08 the offense averaged 338.7 yards and 23.2 points a game. The yardage is actually lower than what the defense gave up, while the team only outscored opponents by an average of two points at a time, leaving little margin for error.
So, how did the team achieve what they did? Despite the recent success of the Arizona Cardinals, the NFC West is often referred to as one of the worst in the NFL; worse than the NFC North with the Detroit Lions or the AFC West with the Oakland Raiders? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
If you go back to when the NFL was realigned in 2002, the NFC West ‘boasts’ the worst record in the entire league, going 192-256. The NFC North, despite having the Lions 0-16 record from 2008, still finished better, with a 204-244 record over the last seven years.
Even looking at 2009 to date, the results are just as grim, with the NFC West sporting the leagues worst record, going 15-25 through ten games.
Any limited success Seattle has had on the road is also in part because of the NFC West. From 2002 to the present, their overall road record is 24-37. This includes only two victories against teams who would finish that season with a winning record. (And only one of those teams went on to make the playoffs.)
Of the 24 victories, exactly half of them have come on the road to NFC West foes, (going 12-9) with a 12-28 record against the rest of the league.
While not wanting to diminish what Seattle has achieved, it’s important to make people aware of all the factors that contributed to their success during this decade.
There is still no taking away from the fact that Seattle has had some excellent teams (and players) during the last seven years (as I, and many others, have previously mentioned, they would have won Super Bowl XL if it weren’t for the absolutely terrible officiating), but they remind me of the Chicago Bears in the 1980s; a good team playing in a poor division.
As it is, it's up to Seattle to take advantage of the division they play in. While both have made strides recently, the St Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers are nothing special. As for the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle showed a couple of weeks ago they can play with them.
The Seahawks should get two relatively high first round draft picks next May and surely can’t suffer a barrage of injuries for a third straight year. As such, I predict right here and now that the Seahawks will return to the playoffs in 2010.
How’s that for optimism?