After winning 36 regular season games in three years, you’d be forgiven for wondering if the Seahawks were the next great dynasty. Similar to New England with Belichick and Brady.
After all, they went to back-to-back Super Bowls. The last team to do that was the Belichick and Brady-led Patriots.
The Seahawks aren’t the Pats though. Nobody is. Instead they’re more closely aligned to the Pittsburgh Steelers. And that’s why a relative down year — if that is what 2015 is going to be — shouldn’t invoke any sort of crisis.
1. As good as the New England Patriots are, they’ve enjoyed playing in the annually wretched AFC East for a long time. They’ve won the division every year bar one dating back to 2003. They’ve had double digit wins every single season in that period. The teams in the NFC West can only dream of facing the Bills, Dolphins and Jets twice every year. The opportunity to win 10-16 games consistently every year just doesn’t exist like it has done for the Pats.
2. The NFC West has developed into one of the toughest divisions in football — and that remains the case with Seattle, St. Louis and San Francisco currently all under .500. The Rams save their best football for the division, the 49ers were a legitimate and ferocious contender until this season and the Cardinals are blossoming into a genuine force under Bruce Arians. It’s become very similar to the AFC North — immensely competitive and somewhat unpredictable. It’s hard to imagine any team ever dominating in the division. Even the Seahawks at their 2013 best lost games to San Fran and Arizona — and they should’ve lost on the road to St. Louis that season. Three different teams have won the AFC North in the last three years. The NFC West could also keep changing hands over the next few seasons.
3. The Steelers started their current run with a young rookie quarterback, a physical running game and a tough defense. They won a Super Bowl in Ben Roethlisberger’s second season. They had a dominating defense led by an all-pro safety. The Seahawks are built in a very similar fashion and have enjoyed similar results. Russell Wilson won a title in his second season, they have the physical run game and the defense is schematically very different but similarly capable of brilliance and includes an all-pro safety. At their worst each team has shared some frustrating aspects too. Agonising close defeats, a defense not performing or a stuttering offense.
Let’s look at how the Steelers have faired since winning that initial Super Bowl with Roethlisberger at the end of the 2005 season:
2006 — 8-8 (missed playoffs)
2007 — 10-6 (lost wildcard vs Jacksonville)
2008 — 12-4 (won Super Bowl)
2009 — 9-7 (missed playoffs)
2010 — 12-4 (lost Super Bowl vs Green Bay)
2011 — 12-4 (lost wildcard vs Denver)
2012 — 8-8 (missed playoffs)
2013 — 8-8 (missed playoffs)
2014 — 11-5 (lost wildcard to Ravens)
As you can see, they’ve had great success to appear in two more Super Bowls (winning one) but they’ve also missed the playoffs four times and had frustrating and crushing defeats in the post season (at home to the bitter rival Ravens last year, vs Tim Tebow in 2011).
Just because the Seahawks are similar to the Steelers doesn’t mean they’re going to mimic this run — but it’s also an indicator that the occasional 8-8 or 9-7 season and missing the playoffs doesn’t mean the end of a Championship window. Pittsburgh are proof you can fight back from a season like the one Seattle is currently experiencing and get back into the 11-12 win range.
There’s nothing really stopping the Seahawks achieving this in the future. They have a loaded core. They have legit star talent. Things maybe just need a refresh as they did in Pittsburgh from time to time. Nothing drastic.
What about Roethlisberger? What does his career progression tell us?
In the 10-6 2007 season, he had 32 touchdowns and 11 picks. In 2008 when they improved to 12-4, those numbers went down to 17 touchdowns and 15 picks. In the 8-8 season after the Super Bowl win he had a ratio of 18:23. Roethlisberger has established himself as a production machine aged 33 — but his early career was statistically erratic. Again, this doesn’t mean anything in terms of Russell Wilson. But maybe, like Roethlisberger, he’s going to have a year like this every now and again?
The dynamic between the two teams and the AFC North/NFC West is very similar. The Pats enjoy a perfect storm — they are uniquely excellent while playing in a weak AFC East division. The Seahawks and Steelers just don’t have that luxury.
Ever since Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle it felt like he was building something similar to the Steelers. If Pittsburgh can endure the odd lost season or two over the years — there’s no reason to panic if that ends up being the case with the Seahawks.
It’s also still too early to write off this season. The 49ers are up next.