The Seattle Seahawks did very little to prove their worth to most of America in the wild-card round, despite their 41-36 win over the New Orleans Saints that went against their status as one of the biggest home underdogs in recorded playoff odds history.
The 10.5-point line was reasonable; after all, this was the defending Super Bowl champs against the first team to win a division with a losing record. The 7-9 Seahawks have forged all sorts of discussions regarding playoff reseeding, and their exploits have fans of the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers asking a legitimate question: If these losers can host a playoff game, how can our 10-6 teams be shut out of the postseason entirely?
Veteran Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy(notes) doesn't care what the naysayers say. He's seen the improbable happen in the postseason, and he understands how a team can get hot at the right time. Milloy was a starter for the 2001 New England Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVI as prohibitive underdogs to the "Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams. That game started New England's dynasty and gave hope to teams that, based on their regular-season performances, had no business hoisting (or even fighting for) the Lombardi Trophy.
When asked after the Saints game if the 2010 Seahawks were starting to feel like that kind of team, Milloy had a quick answer: "What do you think? That's why these games are played. At some point – hopefully later than earlier – your team just kind of gets it. And I think that's what we've done over the last couple of weeks. We have so many new guys, and such a young team … starting with last week [against the Rams for the NFC West title] in that playoff do-or-die situation, it made us more ready for this week. Anyone who won that game was going to be better going into the playoffs. We were focused, and when the world champions were up on us, 10-0, we didn't blink."
If there is a "do-or-die" advantage, the Green Bay Packers carry it as well. The NFC's sixth-seed team has faced and staved off elimination in each of its last three games, and now heads back to Atlanta to face a Falcons team it hung very tough with in a 20-17 Week 12 loss. And if the Packers beat the Falcons, and the Seahawks repeat their Week 6 win against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, the seeding oddities would continue. Those very same Seahawks – the team that couldn't manage a winning record – would host the NFC championship game.
While that would be unprecedented, it'd also be fitting considering the recent run of unlikely Super Bowl entrants. Based on Pro Football Reference's "Expected Won-Loss" statistic – simple metric of points scored and points allowed – the 2.2 win differential between the Patriots and Rams was the fifth-largest in Super Bowl history.
Brady was on the wrong side of an upstart gelling at the right time three years ago.
(Stephan Savoia/AP Photo)
Six years later, the Patriots fell victim to the biggest discrepancy of "Expected Wins" in any Super Bowl, when their 18-0 run was stopped by a New York Giants team that posted 8.6 wins to New England's 13.8 in Super Bowl XLII. And just one year later, the Arizona Cardinals became the only team with an "Expected Wins" total of 8.0 to make the Super Bowl. Were it not for Ben Roethlisberger's(notes) miraculous last-second touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes(notes), the Cards would have accomplished the near-impossible. The Steelers should have understood that possibility; their 2005 team that won Super Bowl XL was stuck at 7-5 before winning its last four regular-season games and then taking three road playoff contests before winning the title.
There has never been a better time for an underdog (and in Seattle's case, "undermutt" may be a better description) to shock the world. If the Seahawks ride the increasingly favorable trends and circumstances, and gain a trip to Dallas in February, they'll do so by blowing away every other subpar Super Bowl team. The Seahawks ended the 2010 season with 5.5 expected wins based on a point differential of minus-97, fifth-worst in the NFL.
They lost each of their nine games by at least two touchdowns, and in one two-week stretch they lost to the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants by a combined score of 74-10. But they also played the Saints close enough at the Superdome in the regular season to make people wonder about their chances in a rematch, and they beat the Bears – the NFC's second-seeded team – at Soldier Field in Week 6. Meanwhile, the Raiders and Giants each had better records than the Seahawks, and neither team made the postseason.
As those other impossible-dream teams know, sometimes things just go your way. The 2008 Cardinals were crushed by the Eagles, Vikings and Patriots in the final five weeks of their regular season, but managed to meet and beat the Eagles at home in the conference title game because of that same seeding process. The 2001 Patriots lost in the regular season to the Rams team they beat in the Super Bowl, but saw enough to know that there were "scoutable" things they could correct. And in perhaps the most famous preamble, the 2007 Giants hung tough against the undefeated Patriots in the regular-season finale. They knew, perhaps more than any other team, precisely how that New England team was actually vulnerable.
Perhaps more now than in any other time in the league's history, championships seem to be more about where a team is going than where it's been. If the Seahawks find themselves as the most "undeserving" of those recent entrants, they'll at least have the knowledge that in the NFL, there's no such thing anymore as an impossible dream.