RENTON — The Seattle Seahawks have been in this situation once before.
Following the 2005 season, they were the NFC’s top dog, a team that needed to just win two home games to clinch a Super Bowl berth. And while that team took care of business, the same fate is hardly a given for this year’s team.
In fact, going back to that 2005 season, No. 1 seeds hosting six seeds in the divisional round of the playoffs — something Seattle is doing against New Orleans this weekend, and did in Jan. of 2006 against Washington — have just a 2-5 record, including Seattle’s victory over the Redskins, despite being a home team that is fresh off a bye.
That’s history Seahawks coach Pete Carroll doesn’t mind hearing in the buildup to Saturday’s game. It’s a trend he obviously wants to avoid, but one that also allows him to remind his team that there’s no such thing as a sure thing in the playoffs, not even at CenturyLink Field.
“Dealing with the fact that you’re the number one seed, I guess,” he said when asked why top seeds have struggled. “I would think dealing with the week off, dealing with the fact that everybody is patting you on the back, and just the element of being off for a week. If you don’t gain from that week, all of those would be factors. I like history like that because you get to knock them down a bit, you know?”
Mike Holmgren, the only coach to lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl — a distinction fans hope he soon has to share — sees the advantages to being an underdog, but he wouldn’t trade the bye week and home-field advantage for any “nobody believes in us” motivation.
“Given the choice, I’d always rather have the bye,” said Holmgren, who is now serving as an NFL and Seahawks analyst for Sports Radio KJR. “Look at Seattle now, they’ve got home-field advantage, which is probably the most important part of that, even more than the week off. And the week off allows you to heal up and get really ready physically to play. All their guys can play, even the guys who were nicked up a little bit, so that week is really important.”
One key to avoiding the fate of other top seeds that have lost, Holmgren says, is knowing how to handle the bye week properly. A playoff bye isn’t the same as an in-season bye, which often times results in a full week off for players. Instead this year’s Seahawks held what Carroll called two of their best practices of the season, pitting starters against starters on Thursday and Friday. This week, the practice schedule goes back to normal, and if anything the concern has to shift to not over-doing things, Holmgren says.
“It’s not the same as a normal bye, that’s for sure,” Holmgren said. “It’s the playoffs, it’s one-and-done, so one of the things you’re coaching to during the bye week and of course the week prior to the game is: ‘This is the playoffs, this is the second season, this is it.’ So it’s different that way. You don’t want to overwork them because you have the extra time, so there’s a fine line between preparation and leaving some of the game on the practice field, you don’t want to do that.”
This year’s Seahawks, like Holmgren’s ’05 team, won’t sneak up on anyone, they won’t be overlooked by opponents. That’s what comes with going 13-3, and it’s just one reason the Seahawks have to be careful not to avoid the fate of other recent one-and-done No. 1 seeds.
“If you’re the top dog and you have the bye, you know who you are, you know what to expect, everyone’s going to bring their A game,” Holmgren said. “When you’re the one chasing, you have that, ‘We have nothing to lose. There’s nothing to lose. No one’s giving us a chance in this thing. Let’s just cut it loose, have some fun.’ You can coach to that and make them feel like, ‘Hey listen, everyone thinks we’re going to lose. Let’s just go do this, let’s shock the world.’ That’s a motivational tool you can use, and players seem to respond to that.”
Carroll’s 2010 and 2012 teams had that. The ’10 team was 7-9 and heard over and over again how it didn’t deserve to be in the playoff, only to beat the defending Super Bowl champs in the Wild Card round. Last year’s team was very good, but still had to travel east twice, winning in Washington before losing a heartbreaker in Atlanta.
The 2013 Seahawks, however, face a different challenge. They have to do something that has been tougher than expected for NFL teams in recent years: live up to their seeding.
But whether or not being the top dog comes with challenges, it certainly beats the alternative.
“From a psychological standpoint, I suppose you can make a case (as a Wild Card team) that you played a game and you’re ready to play again, and you’re in that in-season rhythm if you don’t have the extra week off,” Holmgren said. “But I’d rather be able to use that extra week to heal up and be physically ready to play that game.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.