Slate's Charles Pierce
caused a mild uproar two years ago when he deemed the 9-7 Arizona
Cardinals's presence in the NFL postseason "at best a fluke and, at
worst, a disgrace." That nobody has even bothered to bash the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks for winning the
NFC West title and an automatic home playoff game speaks to how lightly regarded
the team is amongst NFL observers. Unlike the sporadically explosive
Cardinals of 2008, Seattle shows no evidence of even being
mediocre--they flunk the eye test (26 out of 32 teams in ESPN's week 16 NFL power
rankings), the numbers test (30th out of 32 in Football
Outsiders' latest batch of analytical team rankings), and the
talent test (despite the cross country trip, Las Vegas oddsmakers have New Orleans
as an early 11 point favorite). But around the Web, a handful of
voices doggedly refused to sleep on the team's chances:
- Why Not? The Wall Street Journal Carl Bialik admits Seattle is limited, but a lot of less-than-talented teams have scraped together playoffs wins in recent years. "Very recent history," he argues, "is encouraging ... In the last two seasons, five teams made the playoffs with fewer than 10 wins. Each won at least one game, three made the conference championship game and Arizona reached the Super Bowl."
- Likable Sports needs underdogs, argues Judy Battista in The New York Times, and Seattle fits the bill. She explains:
There is charm in the Seahawks’ story, just like an NCAA play-in victor facing Duke in the first round. They probably don't have a chance of beating the Saints, although New Orleans has never won a playoff game on the road. The Seahawks lost to the Saints, 34-19, Week 11 after allowing 494 yards of offense (the Saints weren’t much better, allowing 424 yards, including 366 by Hasselbeck). But weirder things have happened this season--a team that lost nine games by at least 15 points winning a division is one of them--and there will be plenty of time later this month to watch the behemoths slug it out ...
This isn't what Pete Rozelle had in mind when he espoused parity, but the N.F.L. can use an occasional shake-up to their carefully constructed world order. And a team that barely registers a blip most seasons is a good way to do it.
- The History Factor If net points is one of the surest ways to take stock of a football team, Seattle Weekly's Caleb Hannan points out the Seahawks (minus-97 on the season, sixth worst in the NFL) are "not only the worst team in the playoffs, but one of the worst teams in the entire league." The sheer strangeness of their playoff run should entice true football fans to tune in and try to make sense of it all. Other teams are better, but only Seattle is "the NFL's answer to the bearded lady."
- Battlers The NFL's policy of giving automatic home postseason berths to division champions regardless of record might not make a lot of sense, concedes the Seattle Times columnist Jerry Brewer, but it is the rule, Seattle is hardly the first unremarkable team to emerge as "champs of the chumps" just because they "avoided the banana peel resting just before the finish line." Sunday's game against St. Louis may have been "the feeblest [playoff] fight ever" but the Seahawks--unlike the Giants and Buccaneers, who lost key games down the stretch--didn't botch the gift of "divine contention" handed down from the football gods.