When this season started I wasn’t yet writing for Field Gulls, but here were my predictions, culled from my comments: a 10-6 record, and based on how good the NFC West was likely to be, probably a knife-fight for the division and a wild card playoff slot. I thought the Seahawks had improved from 2018, but so had the 49ers and the Cardinals. I thought Seattle was a good bet to win a divisional round game and considered it a season goal. I thought they had no realistic chance at a Super Bowl win.
I thought the Seahawks were strong across the board at all the offensive skill positions, with a serviceable offensive line. I thought the defense was weak in both the secondary and the trenches, and that consequently we were going to have a powerhouse offense that would need to drag a mediocre defense over the finish line to win games.
This year felt like the franchise was coming out from under an organizational hangover inflicted by the decline and fall of the LOB-era of Seattle football. The 2015-2018 seasons were a house party slowly shifting gears from epic to cataclysmic as the blackout-drunk guests threw couches out windows, made naked speeches from the roof, and fled into the woods with K-9 units nipping at their heels. The 2018 calendar year especially felt like the morning after: Tallying the property damage, apologizing to the neighbors and dragging passed out party animals off the lawn furniture, all while dealing with a splitting headache.
This season, for the first time in a long time, it felt like the party planning cycle was ramping up again. Pete Carroll and John Schneider were in the Costco liquor market, filling the cart with bulk vodka and Budweiser.
But it didn’t feel like the party was ready to start quite yet.
I found a Field Gulls comment thread from August with other predictions from the peanut gallery, which I will neither name nor link to in order to protect the identities of those involved. The predictions ran from a low of 8 wins to a high of “11-12,” with a sharp spike in the bell curve around 10 wins. The general sentiment was that the Seahawks were an improved team but that the 2019 NFC West promised to be a more lethal habitat than it had been in 2018.
Congratulations – to you, and to me. We were right.
The 2019 Seattle Seahawks improved from 12th to 8th in DVOA rating, and improved their regular season record from 10-6 to 11-5. Of those five losses, the Hawks dropped four of those games to (i) the defending Super Bowl champions and (ii) three playoff teams, two of whom went on to become the #1 AFC and #1 NFC playoff seeds. The third, the #3-seeded Saints, were consistently predicted to make it to the NFC championship game, if not the Super Bowl.
The Hawks made it to that divisional round game I expected them to win before the season started, but along the way a truly astonishing number of critical players bought the farm. All I’ll say is that, even setting aside the defensive casualties, if Russell Wilson had been throwing to Will Dissly and Josh Gordon, and Chris Carson had been running behind Mike Iupati and Justin Britt, Seattle would have left the Green Bay Packers, Lambeau Field, and the better part of the state of Wisconsin a smoking ruin. Cheeseheads are waking up this morning all over the upper Midwest congratulating themselves on beating the Seahawks’ backups’ backups, blissfully unaware of how close they came to the chill embrace of the offseason.
So I’m happy. Content with what the Seattle Seahawks did with their 2019 season, pleased to have been a fan of this particular team, not remotely disappointed with their performance against Green Bay. We’ll get deep into the reasons why the Packers game doesn’t have me seething in this week’s Neanderball columns, but suffice it to say for now that the Hawks played the Pack exactly the way they’ve been playing for weeks. There was no regression by any player, no particularly awful play-calling – Seattle was true to their injury-riddled selves, and it simply wasn’t good enough. There were no heroes and few, if any, villains.
This is not the current tone in Seahawks fandom, if I’m any judge. Pete Carroll is once again being burned in effigy as Seattle shows its gratitude to the coach behind Seahawks football’s eighth consecutive winning season and fifth playoff victory in six years. Not surprising. The nature of sports fandom is to allow optimism to creep in, however irrational that optimism might be, and when that bubble bursts it’s equally the nature of sports fandom to look around for someone to blame, as if a half-dead Seattle squad losing a road game by five points to a 13-3 team helmed by Aaron Rodgers requires a scapegoat.
The truth of the matter is that the birthright of sports fans is heartbreak. It’s so vanishingly rare to avoid it, and there’s no good way to go out. Browns fans are dealing with another losing season. Cowboys fans are dealing with barely missing the playoffs. The day before the Seahawks’ season ended, the Baltimore Ravens scored 12 points in a stunning loss to the sixth-seeded, 9-7 Tennessee Titans. This happened to the teacher’s pet of the analytics movement, helmed by the presumptive 2019 MVP, owners of a dominant 14-2 season record. The entire world thought they were going to win the Super Bowl, and now Ravens fans are on the same couch, drinking from the same chalice of misery.
Nor has the pain train come to a stop. Next weekend two more teams are going to have their dreams crushed. Three weeks from now, some city in America is going to come within three hours of immortal glory, then wake up the next morning shoveling unused confetti into dumpsters, wondering how it all went so wrong – maybe in a blowout that leaves them doubting whether they ever deserved to make it to the big show, maybe in a close loss that’ll end up immortalized on ESPN highlight reels for the next century.
After a season that played out like an action movie, Seattle was one of the last eight teams standing in a 32-team league. And next year they’re probably going to be even better. As Mondays go, this one could be a lot worse.