NFL: Will the Seahawks Return to the Super Bowl?

Norm Hall/Getty Images

Norm Hall/Getty Images

Through the first six weeks of the season, it seemed like the Seattle Seahawks were headed down a path that involved missing the playoffs; they held a 2-4 record and sat a few games out of postseason contention. The Seahawks had already suffered the same amount of losses that they had accrued in all of the 2014 season. However, the team got off to a similar start last year, holding a 3-3 record through six games. All of their losses during that stretch were also by 10 points or less and decided in the fourth quarter.

And this trend continues. Seattle finished the 2015-16 regular season as one of the hottest teams in the league, winning eight of their last 10 games, including a stretch of five consecutive contests. In 2014, the Seahawks won nine of their last 10 games of the regular season and headed to the playoffs riding a six-game winning streak. However, this is where the comparisons stop as the Seahawks have had a tougher season due to injuries and the stronger quality of opponents in the NFC.

Last season, it was quite clear that the defending Super Bowl champions were the team to beat in the playoffs. Things have changed a bit with the Carolina Panthers currently holding that title with an impressive 15-1 record and the likely NFL MVP in Cam Newton at the helm. There is also a strong spotlight on the defending champion New England Patriots, who hold one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoff picture.

It’s true that Seattle may not be the team with a bullseye on its back like it has been over the last couple of seasons, but they are still one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Injuries to Marshawn Lynch, Thomas Rawls, and Jimmy Graham have all hurt their offense, but the progressive development of Russell Wilson has taken their offense to new heights and masked the injuries along the way.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Wilson had a historic finish to the season, becoming the first player in league history to throw a league-record 19 touchdowns with no interceptions over a five-game stretch. The 27-year-old was also the first quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 3 touchdown passes in five consecutive games and record a quarterback rating of 128.3 over that span. He was the first player in NFL history to record 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns, and 500 rushing yards in a single season. He currently leads the league with a career-high and new franchise record 110.1 passer rating, and he broke the Seahawks’ record with 34 touchdown passes in a single season.

What is most impressive is that he accomplished all this without Graham and for the most part without Lynch and Rawls, as the Seahawks averaged 32.5 points while he threw for 272.3 yards over the last seven games. Wilson makes the Seahawks an extremely dangerous offensive team that could possibly become more lethal with the expected return of Lynch in the wild-card matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

Although Christine Michael put together a career-best 102-yard performance last week, it doesn’t match the impact that Lynch can make as a hard-nosed runner who has the ability to change the game with one play. His return gives the offense a sense of completeness, and the elevated play of Wilson in his absence only makes a third trip to the Super Bowl all the more likely. The Vikings may pose a realistic threat, but let’s not forget how dominant the Seahawks’ defense was on the road against the NFC North champions, allowing only one scoring drive and limiting former NFL MVP Adrian Peterson to just 18 yards on 8 carries.

Peterson’s role should be far greater this time around, but with the way Seattle is playing, it could lead to another frustrating offensive performance for Minnesota. The Seahawks’ biggest hurdle could come against the Panthers in the divisional round as Carolina pulled the rug out from underneath them in their regular-season meeting by scoring 2 touchdowns in the final four minutes to etch out the win. That said, Seattle had control for most of the game and held a double-digit lead through almost the first three quarters of the contest.

Trying to beat the Panthers at home, where they went a perfect 8-0 this season, will be a daunting task. It’s no secret that Newton experienced his fair share of difficulties with the Seahawks in the playoffs last year, falling in the divisional round 31-17, which included throwing 2 interceptions. If they can get past Carolina, it may lead to a rematch with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game, which could also bode well for Seattle despite playing on the road.

The Seahawks torched the 2015 NFC West champions in that exact scenario in the season finale to the tune of a 36-6 blowout win. Wilson was flawless, throwing his sixth game this season with at least 3 touchdown passes. The Cardinals’ high-flying offense was anything but that as they put together just 1 scoring drive and committed 3 turnovers. All of this points to Seattle making another run to the Super Bowl. The odds are definitely stacked against them as they play on the road throughout the playoffs, but it’s difficult to count them out because of their proven track record over the last two years.

Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, ESPN.com, and NFL.com.