Oh, how the times have changed.
In 2010, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll led his team to a 7-9 finish in his first season in the Pacific Northwest. That was good enough to capture the top spot in the NFC West that year.
This past season, the new-look Seahawks won their final five regular-season contests to finish 11-5, which wasn't good enough to usurp the San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) for the NFC West title.
But off last season's impressive finish, there's now Super Bowl talk surrounding a franchise that has only ever made one appearance in that game.
First things first: The Seattle Seahawks will make a second straight trip to the playoffs…
If: The team continues to run the football with commitment. While quarterback Russell Wilson had a dynamite rookie season, both the team and running back Marshawn Lynch each finished third in the league in rushing. If you include the playoff encounters with Washington and Atlanta, Lynch ran for 100-plus yards rushing in 11-of-18 outings in 2012. Meanwhile, Wilson tied the NFL rookie record for touchdown passes in a season (26) and committed only 13 turnovers in 16 regular-season games. Seattle's offensive unit produced 43 touchdowns in 2012, up considerably from the previous season (30).
And: If the Seahawks can reverse some of those road losses from a year ago and turn them into wins in 2013, than Carroll's team will be looking at a playoff game or two at home, a place the team did not lose this past season. Including the postseason, Seattle's 12 wins in 2012 came by a combined 201 points (16.8 points per game) while their six setbacks (all on the road and all by seven points or less) were by a combined 26 points…
But: If Wilson isn't able to avoid opposing defenders, it could derail the Seahawks' postseason hopes. We point this out because in the team's first 15 games this past season, Seattle's Pro Bowl quarterback was sacked only 27 times. But starting with the regular-season finale vs. St. Louis and including both playoff games, Wilson was sacked a combined 13 times by the Rams (6), Redskins (5) and Falcons (2).
So what do you think? If you include last season's playoff split with the Redskins and Falcons, Carroll's team won a total of 12 games. That's quite a turnaround for a club that was a combined 14-18 the previous two seasons. Still, there are no guarantees in this NFL, especially in a much-improved division like the NFC West. Is it possible that despite plenty of promise, the Seahawks could actually fall short of a return trip to the playoffs?
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country, can be heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio and many other networks and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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