PHILADELPHIA — In a Seattle Seahawks season that so often seemed to defy convention, maybe it only made sense that a team with one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL over the past two decades suddenly seemed to be better on the road.
The Seahawks won a franchise record seven road games this season, losing only one, compared to a 4-4 mark at CenturyLink Field, where they are 99-45 since it opened in 2002, better than any team in the NFC other than Green Bay (which is 101-41-2 at Lambeau Field in that span).
Seattle was one of just 12 teams in the NFL with better road records than home, and only one other team was three games better on the road than at home — Tampa Bay, which was 5-3 on the road (with one of the losses in overtime in Seattle) and 2-6 at home.
It was also just the fifth time in Seattle’s 44-year NFL history that the Seahawks finished with a better road record than home. Only once had Seattle had a greater disparity in its road and home record — the bizarre season of 1980 when the Seahawks won their first four road games en route to a 4-3 overall record and then never won again, going 4-4 on the road and 0-8 at home, also the only Seattle team that never won a home game.
The other three times before this season that Seattle won more road games than home games it was by a margin of one, including just two years ago when the 2017 team went 5-3 on the road and 4-4 at home.
One reason why may be that three of Seattle’s home losses were against what most people would regard right now as the three best teams in the NFL — Baltimore, New Orleans and San Francisco, all teams that went 7-1 on the road this season. And of Seattle’s seven road wins, only two came against teams with winning records.
But those two were the 49ers and the Eagles, the team Seattle plays Sunday as it opens the postseason with a wild card game.
And while you can wonder why it was and what it meant that the Seahawks had a better road than home record this season, it suddenly is the team’s biggest reason for hope as the playoffs begin.
The events of last weekend (Green Bay’s comeback win and then Seattle’s loss to the 49ers), meant that barring the really unlikely chance of hosting sixth-seed Minnesota in the NFC title game, the only road the Seahawks can take to the Super Bowl is, well, on the road.
If Seattle can get past the Eagles, the Seahawks would then go to either San Francisco, or less likely, Green Bay, for the divisional round. And then, if Seattle got past that game, it’d be on the road again for the conference title game, unless the Vikings get there.
It’s a road that’s been traveled before, but not often.
Since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990 only one five seed has made it to the Super Bowl — the 2007 Giants, who then beat the undefeated Patriots in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history. Only two six seeds have done it — the 2005 Steelers who beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, and the 2010 Packers, who also won it all.
Of the 58 spots in the Super Bowl since 1990 (two each year) 46 have gone to teams that had a first-round bye, with only 12 going to wild card teams.
So yeah, hold off making those reservations to Miami.
But the Seahawks are understandably embracing the “road warrior” challenge as the playoffs begin.
“Some teams worry about playing on the road,” quarterback Russell Wilson said this week. “I don’t think we do.”
Players have cited the closeness of this team and such things as deciding to take one bus together to the game as reasons for the road success this year — Wilson also cited that Seattle often has a large contingent of fans, though that may not be as much in force in a playoff game with hard-to-schedule, last-minute travel. Philly fans may also come out in force for a playoff game that until a few weeks ago seemed unlikely.
“It’s everybody on this sideline against this whole stadium,” said safety Bradley McDougald. “We like the threat. We like being the underdogs and being counted out. We thrive in those opportunities.”
Seattle, though, is actually a 1.5-point favorite after the Eagles began the week as a one-point favorite, bettors maybe swayed by the Seahawks’ overall resume, not sold on the fact that the Eagles beat up on soft NFC East goes to win the last four and get into the postseason — and maybe also just thinking Seattle has a huge edge in Wilson at QB instead of Carson Wentz.
Indeed, Wilson is 8-5 in the playoffs with a passer rating of 94.9 that is ninth in league history (just behind the 95.6 of Joe Montana).
Wentz, meanwhile, has yet to play in the postseason, missing the last two seasons due to injury.
And like his team, Wilson was at his best on the road this season — he completed 70.46% of passes on the road this season compared to 62.37 at home, and averaged 8.35 yards per attempt compared to 7.63.
And if Seattle is to truly navigate the long road it would take to get back to the Super Bowl, it’s Wilson who will lead the way.
“There’s only 12 teams left,” Wilson said. “The great thing is we are one of those 12. It really comes down to just having a fresh start. New season. Just really trying to be great on the road, trying to be great in execution. That’s what it comes down to. Trying to have a good start and have a great finish. I think that’s really what it comes down to. Nothing magical. You have to make your plays when they’re there.”