Before this season, I was skeptical of the Seattle Seahawks.
Everything seemed off. They lost multiple players who are already legends in team history. They promised to be a run-first team in a pass-first league. Their hire of Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator was uninspiring. Their draft was curious, and most of their additions in free agency were minor. They started 0-2. They lost do-everything safety Earl Thomas, who might land in the Hall of Fame some day, in Week 4.
But here’s the truth of the NFL: A great coach-quarterback coach combination can cover up just about everything else.
The 6-5 Seahawks aren’t going to remind anyone of the classic championship teams of the Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson era. But they’ve gotten through a really rough four-game stretch of their schedule looking like a wild-card team. Football Outsiders gives the Seahawks a 74.2 percent chance of making the playoffs after a huge win at the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
How did this happen? The Seahawks’ draft class hasn’t had a big impact outside of punter Michael Dickson, who has been very good. None of their free-agent additions have become unexpected cornerstones. They are 31st in passing attempts with Wilson, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, which seems counterintuitive. Yet, here they are.
The Seahawks have some clear strengths. They lead the NFL in rushing yards with three backs playing big roles, led by Chris Carson. They’ve been great at avoiding turnovers; their nine turnovers are the fewest in the NFL. Wilson hasn’t passed a lot but he has been great when asked to. His 112 rating would be the best of his career. The defense hasn’t been great but it has been good enough, and has forced 17 turnovers.
Carroll deserves a lot of credit. He’s 85-53-1 with the Seahawks for a reason. There was a lot of outside noise about the Seahawks before the season and during a tough start, but Carroll’s ability to motivate his team and get them to buy in is on full display this season. Carroll is a bit unusual among NFL coaches, with his enthusiasm more of a fit in college (or perhaps that is just a perception left over from his USC days that we can’t shake), but he has shown over and over he’s one of the NFL’s best.
It helps to have Wilson as a closer. Against the Packers, Wilson threw a game-winning touchdown with 5:18 left on a third down. On Sunday against the Panthers, Wilson threw deep on fourth-and-3 — going back to Carroll, even if he’s not calling the offense there’s no way a team with a bad, conservative coach would ever try going deep in that situation — and hit David Moore for a 35-yard touchdown to tie the game. It was a brilliant catch by Moore, and a great play by Wilson too. Then Wilson hit Tyler Lockett for 43 yards on third-and-5 to set up the game-winning field goal at the end.
Sometimes football can be easy to analyze. If you have a great coach and quarterback, you’re never going to be that bad. Carroll and Wilson have won a Super Bowl together. Wilson has been an MVP candidate before. But this season, even with a modest 6-5 record, might be the ultimate proof of their value.
Here are the power rankings after Week 12 of the NFL season:
32. Arizona Cardinals (2-9, Last Week: 32)
It’s hard to take a 10-0 lead and lose 45-10. The bright spot, of course, was Larry Fitzgerald. He scored his fifth touchdown in the Cardinals’ last five games. He’s not having a huge season (uneven quarterback play hasn’t helped) but is still a great professional producing on a terrible team.
31. Oakland Raiders (2-9, LW: 31)
Jared Cook’s one-handed touchdown catch was one of the best you’ll see this season. At 31 years old, Cook probably isn’t a cornerstone of the Raiders’ rebuild, but he’s having a remarkable season.
30. San Francisco 49ers (2-9, LW: 29)
The Reuben Foster story should put a harsh light on where the 49ers are in the John Lynch-Kyle Shanahan era. There have been a lot of missteps, the most egregious of which was sticking by Foster during his first domestic violence case just so he could make them look bad later on. Yahoo’s Charles Robinson broke down Lynch’s moves, and other than a Jimmy Garoppolo trade that fell in the 49ers’ laps, it’s not too pretty.
29. New York Jets (3-8, LW: 30)
Jamal Adams was all over the field again on Sunday, and he has become one of the best safeties in the NFL. Adams was the sixth overall pick of the 2017 draft, and it looks like a great choice for the Jets.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8, LW: 25)
Benching Blake Bortles probably had to happen. I’m not sure how to reconcile that with firing offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett on the same day. Hackett hasn’t had a great year but he didn’t seem to be the problem. Is it the quarterback or the coordinator at fault? Was it really both? Or is this just Doug Marrone blaming everyone but himself?
27. New York Giants (3-8, LW: 26)
Saquon Barkley is on pace for 1,206 rushing yards and 845 receiving yards. Only Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk have rushed for 1,000 yards and had 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Barkley might not get there, but being this close as a rookie is amazing.
26. Buffalo Bills (4-7, LW: 28)
Josh Allen continues to show why the Bills drafted him in the top 10. He had 99 yards rushing and made some huge plays with his legs. He has been an even better runner than expected. He continues to make plays with his arm too, though consistency hasn’t arrived yet. Still, the Bills have to feel good to this point.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (5-6, LW: 19)
That 4-1 start seems like it happened a few seasons ago. The Bengals are sliding fast and now Andy Dalton is done for the season. Jeff Driskel has just 36 career passes, but he’s next up. Here’s where I’d usually mention that the coach might be in trouble, but I’ve given up trying to predict what’s next for the Bengals when it comes to Marvin Lewis.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7, LW: 27)
Slot receiver Adam Humphries is becoming a reliable piece of the Bucs offense. Over the last four weeks he has four touchdowns, and has caught 19 of 22 targets. Tampa Bay’s offense has a lot of options, but Humphries keeps finding a way to catch the attention of his quarterbacks, no matter who it is.
23. Detroit Lions (4-7, LW: 21)
The Lions’ plan on Thanksgiving was strangely conservative. It’s understandable why they’d want to get the ball out quickly against the Bears’ pass rush, but it wasn’t working. They basically turned Matthew Stafford into a check-down artist, and if that’s the offense they want, there are many other cheaper quarterbacks capable of playing that role. There just isn’t a lot of creativity coming out of Detroit this season.
22. Miami Dolphins (5-6, LW: 22)
Adam Gase caught some criticism for his play-calling after the Colts tied the game at 24-24. Backed up at their own 6-yard line, the Dolphins ran up the middle for no gain, they threw a short pass that was incomplete, then had another run up the middle that practically conceded a punt from deep in their own territory with about three minutes left. That’s just bad.
21. Atlanta Falcons (4-7, LW: 20)
Matt Ryan leads the NFL in passing yards, with a higher completion percentage and lower interception percentage than he had his MVP season. He also has a 110.6 passer rating. It’s really hard to be 4-7 with a quarterback that productive.
20. Cleveland Browns (4-6-1, LW: 24)
Baker Mayfield made some tremendous plays on Sunday. He was going to throw for more than 400 yards and maybe five or six touchdowns if the game against the Bengals was competitive for the final quarter and a half. He doesn’t look like a rookie. He’s the star the Browns have desperately been looking for.
19. Denver Broncos (5-6, LW: 23)
Here are the Broncos’ next four games: at Bengals, at 49ers, vs. Browns, at Raiders. Three road games, but all beatable teams. Then in Week 17, they get the Chargers at home, and it’s possible Los Angeles is locked into the fifth seed in the AFC by then. I’m not sure how good the Broncos really are, but they’re legitimately in the wild-card race. It’s also worth wondering if Vance Joseph is in the process of saving his job. That would be remarkable.
18. Green Bay Packers (4-6-1, LW: 17)
I don’t think the Packers need a total roster overhaul. There is talent. They need a coaching change, though that’s far from a unique idea. With the right coaching hire, the Packers can be right back to contender status. It’s not a dire situation. They just need a shakeup at the top.
17. Tennessee Titans (5-6, LW: 16)
The Titans’ loss Monday night was a tough one, but take a peek at what they have left: vs. Jets, vs. Jaguars, at Giants, vs. Redskins, at Colts. It’s very easy to talk yourself into the Titans winning four in a row and being 9-6 facing the Colts in Week 17.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (5-6, LW: 18)
The best thing the Eagles have going for them is three of their remaining games are against the Redskins (twice) and Cowboys. It’s not easy to win all three, much less beat the Rams and Texans in their other remaining games, but they’ll have their direct chances to move up the NFC East standings. Can they take advantage of it? Hard to say yes based on what we’ve seen this season, but it’s hard to write off a defending champ with that much talent.
15. Washington Redskins (6-5, LW: 12)
I’m not going to throw out Washington yet. Colt McCoy didn’t play great in his first start, but it was a tough spot in a short week on the road. He’ll benefit from the extra days to prepare for this week’s game, as will the coaches. The Cowboys have to be considered NFC East favorites now, but don’t totally count Washington out yet.
14. Indianapolis Colts (6-5, LW: 15)
Darius Leonard went down early, grabbed at his leg and was taken back to the locker room. Colts fans were just thrilled to see the rookie linebacker back on the field, and then he had 10 tackles and a sack in the win. Leonard has been a great pick and is right in the NFL defensive rookie of the year mix.
13. Baltimore Ravens (6-5, LW: 14)
Stories like Gus Edwards are part of what makes the NFL great. Edwards played running back for three seasons at Miami and another at Rutgers. He had 1,690 college yards, topping out at 713 last season with Rutgers. He was undrafted, probably because there was nothing remarkable about his college career. Then, suddenly, he rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back weeks. He’s the second Ravens rookie ever to do that, joining Jamal Lewis. He had 15 career carries before his big opportunity and was practically anonymous. Now many fantasy owners are grateful for a guy they’d never heard of two weeks ago. What a fun story.
12. Carolina Panthers (6-5, LW: 9)
The Panthers still play at the Browns (that’s not so easy anymore) and the Saints twice. They probably can’t lose all three and make the playoffs, not to mention other games against the Buccaneers or Falcons. Even if they just lose the two to the Saints, they wouldn’t be guaranteed a playoff spot at 9-7. It’s stunning a team as good as the Panthers, which started 6-2, finds itself in such a spot.
11. Seattle Seahawks (6-5, LW: 13)
The Seahawks had to survive a stretch of games against the Chargers, Rams, Packers and Panthers. They did that. They still do have remaining games against the Vikings and Chiefs, but those are at home. They also have two games against the 49ers and one against the Cardinals. Seattle is in good shape with five games to go.
10. Dallas Cowboys (6-5, LW: 11)
I’m not yet willing to call the Amari Cooper trade a success. Though, if the Cowboys win the division, it’s hard to argue against it. We’ve seen Cooper have big games, and it’s easier when the Redskins secondary doesn’t tackle, but we’ll see if he can be consistently productive the rest of the way.
9. Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1, LW: 10)
Kirk Cousins has the highest completion percentage of his career, and, by three-tenths of a point, his highest passer rating. He’s on pace to blow by his career high in touchdowns. And — this will surprise a lot of folks — he has the lowest interception percentage of his career. He was on fire on Sunday night against the Packers. Cousins didn’t play well in a huge game against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago, but otherwise he’s been what the Vikings paid for. It’s hard to blame him for the Vikings having four losses already, though a lot of people will anyway.
8. Houston Texans (8-3, LW: 8)
A Week 1 loss to the Patriots is problematic, as far as their ability to get a first-round bye. New England has the head-to-head tiebreaker. But after an 0-3 start, who would have ever thought we’d be talking about the Texans being in the mix for a playoff bye?
7. Los Angeles Chargers (8-3, LW: 7)
The mistake with Melvin Gordon was playing him at all. The Chargers were obviously considering sitting him out, and should have figured they’d beat the Cardinals without him. NFL teams don’t like to frame things that way, but it worked for Matt Nagy sitting Khalil Mack against the Bills and Jets. Once Gordon played, I didn’t have a huge problem with the Chargers leaving him in with 28-10 lead early in the third quarter, or him being given the ball on a reverse from a receiver position. Criticizing Anthony Lynn for that is hindsight; once Gordon played he should have been utilized normally. The problem was that Gordon shouldn’t have played at all. It might cost the Chargers a shot at the AFC West.
6. Chicago Bears (8-3, LW: 6)
Does Akiem Hicks have the title as best player in the NFL who has never made a Pro Bowl? He has been an excellent defensive end since joining the Bears and has been great again this season even though Khalil Mack gets most of the attention. It would be the right thing to get him to the Pro Bowl this season.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1, LW: 4)
The Steelers outgained the Broncos 527 yards to 308. Their chances of winning in overtime looked pretty good, but the potential game-tying touchdown pass was somehow intercepted by Broncos nose tackle Shelby Harris, who wasn’t even supposed to be in coverage. Those are the losses you regret, especially when playoff seeds are handed out.
4. New England Patriots (8-3, LW: 5)
The Patriots got Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel back on Sunday. Rex Burkhead was activated off IR on Monday. The Patriots aren’t getting the same hype as a lot of other teams, but they’re 8-3, a lock to win the division and finally are getting healthy on offense. The Steelers’ loss at Denver might help them too, in terms of playoff seeding.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2, LW: 3)
It’s tough to count on a player returning from injury and being his old self, especially for someone who hasn’t even practiced yet this season. But safety Eric Berry is a special player. He’s supposed to practice this week and presumably return sometime in December. It’s possible he’s just not the same player, at least for the rest of this season. But if he is? That changes things for Kansas City.
2. Los Angeles Rams (10-1, LW: 2)
Did you know the Rams could have clinched the division in November had the Panthers beat the Seahawks on Sunday? That’s coming soon of course, but it helps to show how dominant the Rams have been.
1. New Orleans Saints (10-1, LW: 1)
It seems possible a 14-2 team gets the No. 2 seed in the NFC. It’s not even out of the question the 15-1 Rams get the second seed. There’s no more important race over the last five weeks than Rams vs. Saints for the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
– – – – – – –