Seattle plays the Washington Redskins in the playoffs. There is consensus across odds-makers, game-pickers, and statisticians that the Seahawks are the better team. Seahawks fans know well that the better team does not always win, and local media is playing up the paranoia by writing about how history tells us the Seahawks have a hard time winning in these situations. It was January 14, 2006. The Seahawks had earned the #1 seed in the NFC, and were hosting a Redskins team featuring Clinton Portis and Shawn Springs. Nobody gave the Redskins a chance in that game, but the cynics in Seattle were pointing out Seattle had not won a playoff game–home or away–since 1984. The Seahawks went on to win that game 20-10, despite losing MVP Shaun Alexander to a concussion early on (remember Gregg Williams was the Skins coordinator then?). It may have been a shock to some, but History was not on the field that day. Players decided the outcome. The better team won, a team that went on to the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks have played seven road playoff games since 1983, and have never been the consensus favorite to win. They were never clearly the better team. They never had the top ranked defense. They never had the fourth-rated passer in football. Three of their seven road opponents went on to the Super Bowl. Another two featured Brett Favre and the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. There were close games and blowouts, but there was only one game where Seattle was favored to win.
Dave Krieg, Curt Warner and Steve Largent led the team into the Astrodome to face Warren Moon, Drew Hill and Ernest Givens as 2.5 point favorites. It was the end of the oddball strike season of 1987. Seattle trailed most of that game before tying it with a touchdown and sending it to overtime. Tony Zendejas ended things with a 42-yard field goal. Seattle was nearly doubled in yardage (437-250), and had only 11 first downs (compared to 27 for the Oilers), and still lost by three points in OT.
It was debatable back then whether the Seahawks were deserving favorites in that game. It was Moon’s fourth season in the NFL, and the public still was not sure he was anything to be feared. Moon had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in each season prior. That fourth year was really his launch pad for what eventually became a Hall of Fame career.
There is really no debate which team should be favored to win the game tomorrow. Washington’s biggest advantage is playing on their home turf. They are facing a team with the hottest quarterback in the NFL, the best defense in the NFL, and among the best special teams units. It is insulting to be a home underdog. It can catalyze a team. Redskins fans like to bring up the Seahawks experience against the Saints in 2010 as evidence of how much it matters to be the “better team on paper.” Look at that game with anything more than a glance, and the commonalities fade considerably.
The Saints did feature a hot quarterback in Drew Brees and Top 10 defense, but that is where the similarities ended. Seattle was the most insulted and overlooked playoff team in history. They were the only below .500 team to ever make the playoffs, and were facing the reigning Super Bowl champs who were a record-setting 10 point road favorites. This was the classic trap game for the Saints and the betting public.
The Saints limped into the game with significant injuries, especially at running back. They were down to their fourth string back, Julius Jones, who the Seahawks had released earlier that year. Their tight ends were hurt. Jeremy Shockey played, but not close to full speed, and rookie Jimmy Graham was out. Seattle had played the Saints in New Orleans earlier in the year, and made a great game of it. The Seahawks offense knew they could put up points against the Saints scheme, and the Seahawks defense had started to get healthy near the end of the season. It was enough to give me full confidence in the outcome ahead of the kickoff. Even with all that, the Seahawks barely squeaked out a 41-36 victory.
Nobody is overlooking the Redskins. Not Seahawks fans, not Seahawks players, not the general public. If anything, people still know more about Robert Griffin III and the Redskins than they do about the Seahawks. There are not key injuries to the Seahawks, and there are not key guys returning to health for Washington. Cedric Griffin comes back from suspension, but so does Seahawks Pro Bowl corner Brandon Browner.
You can be sure that the Redskins players and fans feel disrespected. There is no other way to react to being a home underdog, especially one that has won seven in a row. It will be a factor in the game. The crowd will be hungry. The players will be ornery. They could ride that wave of emotion to a victory over a better team. It is not far-fetched. It also would have nothing to do with 1983.
More likely, this is the time when Seattle marks a new milestone in their franchise history. This is the 2005 team, but better. They are hardened by one of the NFL’s toughest schedules. They are more talented, and younger, at nearly every position, and they have proven to themselves that they can take their game on the road. The quality of this team will not be contained by the first round of the playoffs. Even if they find some way to lose this game, their ascendancy to the NFL’s elite is a matter of when, not if.
A true evaluation of Seattle’s history would lead one to conclude that this game is the first of its kind. This is not about repeating history. It is about making it.