As columnist Art Thiel pointed out Monday in “The Seahawks Fear: Win Came Too Easily,” we know two things now that we didn’t know Dec. 2, when the Seahawks made life miserable for QB Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in a 34-7 romp at CenturyLink Field.
Having defeated Philadelphia 26-24 last week in the wild card round, we know that New Orleans can win a playoff game on the road (first in Saints history) in an exceedingly tough venue. We also know that Seattle can lose at home, beaten two weeks ago by the Arizona Cardinals in a downer that ended the locals’ 14-game winning streak at the Clink.
The Seahawks spent four years wrangling to get into the prime position in which they find themselves: Division champion, No. 1 seed, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Two home wins and it’s off to New York.
Oddsmakers are sufficiently agog that they have installed the Seahawks as an eight-point favorite in the rematch and advance to the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco-Carolina survivor.
Based on the runaway Dec. 2 and the Saints’ previous reputation as a soft dome team, a Seattle victory Saturday is virtually a given in the minds of some, notably the point-spread gurus. But history shows us that nothing in the NFL is guaranteed save for a constant catalog of surprises.
Since 1978, when the NFL adopted the 16-game schedule, the league has crowned 234 division champions, including 138 (not counting the 1982 strike year) between 1978 and 2001 when the NFL had six divisions, and 96 more since 2002, when the current, eight-division alignment went into effect.
The first caution: Eighty-one (34.6 percent) of the 234 division champions went one-and-done in the postseason, including five of eight in 2008, when Miami (11-5), Tennessee (13-3), New York Giants (12-4), Minnesota (10-6) and Carolina (12-4) all were bounced. Cincinnati (AFC North), Philadelphia (NFC East) and Green Bay (NFC North) fell in wild card action the past weekend.
A more appropriate comparison to the current Seahawks: Since 2002, 35 of 96 division champions — 36.4 percent — lost in either the wild card or divisional round. In addition, 27 teams, including the 15-1 2011 Green Bay Packers, finished 13-3 or better, but 12 — 44.4 percent — failed to win a playoff game despite first-round byes and home-field advantage in the divisional round.
The most recent of the elite divisional-round losers, the 2012 Denver Broncos, entered the postseason with a 13-3 mark, same as the 2013 Seahawks, and riding an 11-game winning streak. Also like the Seahawks, last year’s Broncos had stomped their playoff opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, 34-17, three weeks prior to the divisional-round rematch.
But the seven-point underdog Ravens picked off Peyton Manning twice, tied the game on the “Flacco Fling,” QB Joe Flacco’s 70-yard TD to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation, and scored a 38-35 upset at Mile High on Justin Tucker’s 47-yard field goal in the second overtime.
The 2011 Packers registered the biggest botch job by an elite regular-season team. With a 15-1 record and the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the Packers entered the postseason with the confidence that they had defeated their divisional-round foe, the New York Giants, 38-25, in the regular season.
But the 9-7 Giants won 37-20 at Lambeau Field as the Packers failed to protect Aaron Rodgers (four sacks), fumbled three times and dropped six passes, two in the red zone.
The following teams since 2002 all finished with a record of 13-3 or better. All were favored, by at least four points, to win their divisional playoff game, and all lost on their home fields, abruptly ending their Super Bowl aspirations:
|Year||Team||Division||Record||Divisional Playoff Stumble|
|2011||Green Bay||NFC North||15-1||Eli Manning (3 TDs) led Giants, 37-20|
|2005||Indianapolis||AFC South||14-2||Lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-18|
|2006||San Diego||AFC West||14-2||Fell to New England 24-21 on late FG|
|2010||N. England||AFC East||14-2||N.Y. Jets shocked Tom Brady, Pats 28-21|
|2003||Kansas City||AFC West||13-3||Peyton Manning 3 TDs in 38-31 Indy win|
|2006||Baltimore||AFC North||13-3||Colts won 15-6 on 5 Adam Vinatieri FGs|
|2007||Indianapolis||AFC South||13-3||P. Rivers 3 TDs in 28-24 San Diego win|
|2007||Dallas||NFC East||13-3||Brandon Jacobs TD gave NYG 21-17 win|
|2008||Tennessee||AFC South||13-3||M. Stover FG lifted Ravens, 13-10|
|2009||San Diego||AFC West||13-3||Jets won 17-14 with 2 4th-quarter TDs|
|2010||Atlanta||NFC South||13-3||A.Rodgers (3 TDs) led Packers, 48-21|
|2012||Denver||AFC West||13-3||Baltimore upended P. Manning 38-35|
Much has been made about how the Saints will respond to their rematch with Seattle after getting doors blown and, in fact, how the Seahawks will respond. Their usual swagger? A letdown? Certainly the customary din at CenturyLink isn’t likely to be as intimidating to the Saints a second time around, and there are numerous examples of successful postseason paybacks following regular-season humiliations.
In the case of the 12 teams cited in the chart, consider that the 2005 Colts sported a 14-2 record and pummeled the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-7 in the regular season. Sounds a lot like Seattle’s 34-7 domination of the Saints. But the Steelers retaliated with a 21-18 divisional playoff win.
The 2010 New England Patriots also went 14-2, one of the wins a 45-3 romp over the New York Jets during the regular season. But behind Mark Sanchez’s three TD passes, the Jets won the playoff rematch 28-21.
The 2007 Dallas Cowboys recorded two regular-season wins over the New York Giants by substantial margins, 45-35 and 31-20. But the Giants defeated the Cowboys in the postseason, 21-17.
With 12 teams sporting records of 13-3 or better having lost in the divisional round at home since 2002, the Seahawks do not have the luxury of buying into the confidence of oddsmakers. Too many previous teams with Seattle’s exact profile have seen their seasons end ingloriously, which is why a New Orleans victory would not come as a surprise.