Lest You Guessed the NFC West was the Best

Something I wrote in a previous entry got me thinking.  (At least I inspire somebody.)  In this entry about resigning Marshawn Lynch, I wrote the following:

One of the biggest false dichotomies in sports is that teams must “build for today” or “build for the future”.  The truth is that well-run franchises do both simultaneously.  That’s how the Patriots can be good for over a decade despite turning over their entire (non-Brady) roster.  (Well, that and they play in a perennially weak division.)

After posting this, I started wondering: Is that final, parenthetical observation really true?  Has the AFC East really been weaker than other divisions?  And is this really a non-trivial factor in the Patriots’ success?  When I wrote it, I was basing it entirely off of hearsay; I have heard NFL commentators make this claim before, but I had never seen any sort of actual data on the subject — no in depth analyses, no nothing.

So, since basing things on hearsay is generally something I try to avoid, I went through and did the leg work.  Starting from 2002 — the first year of the current divisional structure and (roughly) the start of the Tom Brady Era in New England* — and ending at 2014, last year, I recorded each NFL team’s overall record, divisional record, and non-divisional record.  From this data, I derived a few simple metrics to measure the strength/weakness of a team’s division and to determine the extent to which this helped/hurt them overall.

My findings are encapsulated in the table below.  For the sake of brevity, I only present the top six teams (by overall winning percentage) in each conference.  These would be the “playoff” teams if the last 13 years were one giant season.

For each team, we give the team’s overall winning percentage from 2002 to 2014 (TOT WIN), their winning percentage against divisional opponents (DIV WIN), and their winning percentage against non-divisional opponents (NON DIV WIN).  We also give their divisional opponents non-divisional winning percentage (DOND WIN).  This tells us how good Team A’s divisional opponents were without biasing the data by including games against Team A or against each other.  For example, the DOND WIN for the Patriots is .467, meaning from 2002 to 2014, the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills combined for a winning percentage of .467 against teams outside of the AFC East.  In the last column of the table (DIV DELTA), we give the delta (difference) between the number of games a team would have won if they played only divisional opponents and the number of games a team would have won if they played only non-divisional opponents.**   For example, the DIV DELTA for the Patriots is 0.4, meaning they would have won four-tenths more games per season had they played only the AFC East, compared to if they never played the AFC East.

1 NewEngland 0.764 0.782 0.754 0.467 0.4
2 Indianapolis 0.692 0.769 0.646 0.456 2.0
3 Pittsburgh 0.637 0.692 0.604 0.500 1.4
4 Denver 0.596 0.628 0.577 0.454 0.8
5 Baltimore 0.587 0.577 0.592 0.504 -0.2
6 SanDiego 0.582 0.615 0.562 0.459 0.8
1 GreenBay 0.627 0.712 0.577 0.444 2.2
2 Philadelphia 0.594 0.603 0.588 0.505 0.2
3 Seattle 0.563 0.628 0.523 0.413 1.7
4 NewOrleans 0.553 0.551 0.554 0.487 0.0
5 Dallas 0.548 0.526 0.562 0.514 -0.6
6 Atlanta 0.531 0.500 0.550 0.488 -0.8

Three things jump out at me from this table: 1) Most the good teams of the last 13 years benefited from having below-average division-mates; 2) The Patriots did not substantially benefit from playing in a weak division; 3) But the Seahawks sure did!

1)  It makes sense that most the good teams benefit from being in a weak division — in part, that’s why they are good.  After all, if we are just measuring “goodness” by overall record (which we are, in this case), then the teams that get six games a year against below-average opponents are going to be better than those that do not have this advantage.  Also, if we think of the league as having x good teams in a given year, and these teams are assigned to divisions at random, then being good reduces your odds of being in a division with another good team, because there are only x – 1 good teams left; your pool of possible good opponents excludes you.  Notice that, in fact, there are only four teams in the table that had above-average divisional opponents (Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Dallas).

2)  The NFC East (minus the Patriots) was in fact weaker than an average division, but it did not really help the Patriots all that much.  Overall, from 2002 to 2014, the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills did not play .500 ball outside of their division; they had a .467 mark.  However, we can see that this puts the Pats in the middle of the pack among the teams in the table — nothing extreme. Furthermore, the Pats gained less than half a win a year from being in the AFC East.  (They’re DIV DELTA is less than 0.5.)  They were a 12-3-1 team in the division, and a 12-4 team out of it.  The Patriots weren’t advantaged; they were just awesome.  (And probably still are.)

3)  The three teams who benefited the most from having weak division-mates are without question Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Seattle.  The latter is incongruous with recent years — the NFC West has been far and away the best division the past three seasons — but it makes sense when you think back a little further.  Remember, it was only five years ago that the Seahawks won the division at 7-9.  Not only that, but the ‘Hawks won the NFC West each year from 2004 to 2007, and they were a Wild Card in 2003, despite being a top-5 team in the NFL (according to DVOA) once once during that space — the 2005 Super Bowl season.  With seven division titles, nine playoff appearances, three conference championships, and one Super Bowl victory, you could make a strong case that the Seahawks have been the best NFC team in the newly-aligned NFL.  But there is no doubting that they had a bit of help along the way — help in the form of coaches like Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary, Scott Linehan, Steve Spagnola, and Dave McGinnis.

A few other fun facts inspired by the table.

  • The NFC East and AFC North have been the two top divisions since 2002.  Most NFL fans probably would have guessed this.  But I suspect few would have named the third best division: the NFC South.
  • The Steelers are an interesting team, in that they have benefited substantially from playing in the AFC North (their DIV DELTA is 1.4, fourth largest), even though it has been a difficult division.  What this means is that the Steelers raise their game against division foes — or let down against non-division foes.  In fact we saw examples of both last year.
  • The Seahawks were not the only beneficiaries of playing in a lousy NFC West. The Arizona Cardinals took full advantage of it, when they won the division in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009.  The 2008 NFC West was particularly dreadful.  The four teams combined to win only 10 non-division games, for an ugly winning percentage of .250.  None of the teams finished in the top-20 in DVOA.  It was, I think it’s safe to say, the worse division in newly-aligned NFL history.  And yet, their lone postseason representative came within one defensive stop of winning the Super Bowl.
  • Football is weird sometimes.

*Technically it started in 2001 when there were still only six divisions in the NFL.  That year three teams from the NFC East made the playoffs — New England, Miami, and New York.

**This is calculated by the formula (DIV WIN – NON DIV WIN) * 16.

Off-Season Olio: April Fools and Fourth-Down Aggressiveness

I have never been a big fan of April Fools’ Day. I can remember pulling only one prank ever — and it was so small, prank isn’t even the right word. It was a prankoid. In 1985, the NCAA tournament finals fell on April 1. It was a very intriguing matchup — Villanova vs. Georgetown — making it a must-watch event, even for casual sports fans like my father. It so happened my mom was away for the night, so my dad was on dinner duty, which he decided to outsource to the fine people at our neighborhood McDonald’s. (This was before fast food was bad for you.) He hustled my little brother, older sister, and me out of the house and into the car, lest he miss the tip-off, and right after he got my brother tethered into his car seat, I told him the game was canceled.

“What? Why?” he replied.
“I dunno,” I said. “Me and Matt heard it on TV, and Matt asked his dad, and his dad said it’s canceled too.”
“Aw man! I was really looking forward to watching it. That stinks!”
“April Fools!”

We all had a laugh and then we got our food and my dad and I watched Villanova upset Georgetown (my brother and sister are not, nor were they ever sports fans — and that’s an understatement). I literally do not remember a single play from the game — which is a shame because it was a classic — but I do remember I split a 20-pack of McNuggets with my brother and sister. “You will get two extra McNuggets, and it’s cheaper, if you share a big one instead of each getting your own 6-packs,” I distinctly recall my dad saying. It’s weird how memory works.

As far as pranks go, I give this one a B. It was not very elaborate, but it had a solid setup (my dad rushing us into the car in anticipation of the game) and a good delivery on my part (saying my friend’s dad confirmed it was a nice touch); it worked (my dad believed it), and it was good-natured (nobody got emotionally scarred or physically hurt). Plus, I was seven.

I bring this up because Bruce Irvin pulled a “prank” of his own yesterday, tweeting that he got a DUI. I use quotes in the previous section because it wasn’t actually a prank. I don’t mean that in the sense that it wasn’t funny (although it wasn’t); I mean that it didn’t have any of the elements something needs to qualify as a prank. There was no setup and no punchline. There was no misdirection and no payoff. Saying something untrue on a context-less platform like Twitter is not a joke; it’s just a false statement. However, pretending to get a DUI is a far less odious transgression than actually getting a DUI, and we forgive players (and friends) for that all the time, so … Let’s just hope Bruce Irvin can rush the passer better than he can crack a joke.

In other news, actual football news, Football Outsiders did an article in which they rank all NFL coaches in 2014 by “Aggressiveness Index” — that is, how likely a coach is to go for it on fourth down relative to his peers. According to the numbers, Pete Carroll was the 18th most aggressive coach in the league with an A.I. of 0.92. 1.00 is exactly league average, so Carroll was roughly 8% less aggressive than the average NFL coach last year. Being that all NFL coaches are too passive on fourth down and Carroll is conservative relative to this lowered bar, the ‘Hawks are almost certainly leaving points (and thus wins) on the table by not going for it enough.

In fact, this is something about which I have previously groused (for example, here). Carroll seems to be okay with going for it near the goal line (remember the Chiefs game last year or the fumbled hand-off in the 2013 NFC Championship Game), and he goes for it in obvious situations. But he almost always opts for a long field goal attempt or a short punt in the “maroon zone” even when the numbers (the real numbers, not the mythical “numbers” to which the broadcast commentators often refer) say to go for it. Even Carroll’s most famous gutsy moment — the Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse bomb in the 2013 NFC Championship Game on 4th-and-7 — wasn’t really his call. He wanted to kick a field goal but Steven Hauschka said it was beyond his range. The Seahawks defense has been so good the past few years that Carroll’s overly conservative decision-making has not been an issue (and, to be fair, the strong D might be a factor in his decisions), but we saw first hand, with Mike McCarthy in this year’s NFC Championship Game, how passive game calling can play a major role in losing a winnable game. Let’s just hope the Seahawks aren’t on the other side of that coin anytime soon.

With all that said, lest the above commentary lead you to believe otherwise, overall I think Pete Carroll is a fantastic head coach, and I think he is very underrated. What? A Super Bowl winning coach underrated? Yes, I think he is, and I think I can make a compelling case why. But it will have to wait for a future post.

March Mundaneness

On one end of the sports spectrum there is March Madness.  On the other end there is March Mundaneness — my new term for the NFL period post-free agency frenzy, pre-draft.  After the Jimmy Graham bombshell, there hasn’t been much going on in Hawkville — or maybe there has been and the public just doesn’t know about it.  Whatever the case, ostensibly the biggest thing the Seahawks have done the past few weeks is signing somebody named Ahtyba Rubin (who should not be confused with either Ruben Rodriguez or Rick Rubin).  I will confess that I had never even heard of Mr. Rubin before the signing, but after some investigation I think inking him to a one-year deal is a solid pickup.  It’s obviously nothing earth-shattering, and Rubin probably is not even a league-average player, but he’s the type of rotation guy the ‘Hawks need to bolster what, in my opinion, was their biggest weakness last year: pass rushing depth.

In 2013, the Seahawks had the seventh best adjusted sack rate in the league, according to Football Outsiders; in 2014, they fell to 14th.  Other stats tell the same story as Seattle’s gross sack total and their sack rate both decreased from 2013 to 2014.  Also, although I can’t find a non-paywalled source for this, I remember hearing several stats quoted throughout the year about how badly their QB hurry numbers had fallen off.  And then there is the big elephant in the room: We all watched in dismay as Tom Brady picked apart a tired, injured defense in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.

In part, this was to be expected.  The Seahawks had to pay the Super Bowl tax last off-season and part of their payment was a trio of key D-linemen — Chris Clemons, Red Bryant, and Clinton McDonald.  They never completely replaced them and then losing Cliff Avril in the Super Bowl (with Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill already on the shelf) proved to be too much.  The Seahawks’ final offensive play of the season is the one that’s going to haunt Seattle fans for years to come, but it was just that — one play.  The two drives that allowed the Patriots to turn a 10-point deficit into a four-point lead were far more illustrative of Seattle’s weaknesses than was a single bad play call.

So getting JAGs like Rubin, who aren’t great, but who are legitimate NFL players (Rubin started 11 games last year for the Browns) is important if the ‘Hawks want to get back to the Super Bowl for the third straight season — which, one can only assume, they do.  They also signed D’Anthony Smith, who is less intriguing, being that he’s four years removed from his last (and only) productive season in the NFL, but he’s a decent noodle-on-the-wall candidate.  The ‘Hawks could not afford to spend big in free agency at defensive line.  They need a few of these question-mark players (D’Anthony Smith?  Landon Cohen?  Cassius Marsh?  David King?) to stick.

In other news, the NFL just held that thing they do every year where they discuss rule changes — the owners’ meeting or something like that — and despite some kooky proposals, like the possibility of a nine-point touchdown, nothing major came from it.  Here are my four thoughts on rules changes.

  • The Dez Bryant/Calvin Johnson catch/no catch rule has gotten a lot of attention lately and apparently the NFL is rewording it to get rid of the “football move” phrase.  I don’t know if this helps clarify the definition a catch or not, but one thing I do know is that this clarification is not an easy task.  People act as if there is an obvious way to encode the concept of a catch in the rule book and the NFL is choosing to ignore it for reasons unknown.  But when you press these people on what a catch should be, the answer usually boils down to “common sense” or “what looks like a catch.”  I suppose you could put that in the rule book, but it probably would not be a very good idea, if you value consistency in refereeing.  Seriously, if you were in change of writing the catch rule, what would it be?
  • One thing the NFL is trying to avoid in being so pedantic about what is and is not a catch, particularly when a receiver is going to the ground, is a bunch of new fumble scenarios.  If the rule is that a player only has to have possession of the ball and have two feet down, then what happens when a receiver jumps up catches the ball, touches both feet to the ground, immediately buckles, hits the ground, and the ball pops out.  Is that a catch and fumble?  If there was no defender on the Dez Bryant play would that have been a fumble?  And if so, is that an improvement?  Do we want to see a bunch more receiver fumbles caused by the ground?
  • The NFL decided against expanding replay to cover penalties.  I’m OK with this, but I would rather they cover some penalties — not holding or illegal contact, but more objectively defined things like facemask, horse collar tackle, and helmet-to-helmet hits.  I’d also make it so that a ref could call a penalty on replay if it effects the outcome of the replay decision.  For example, if a runner is called down by contact before fumbling, and the defense challenges, and it is clear that the runner was not down by contact, but it’s also clear that the defender grabbed the runner’s facemask, the referee should be able to call this penalty, instead of awarding the ball to the defense.
  • The last thing I’ll say about rule changes and replay is that no what the NFL does they will not get it right.  This is because it is literally impossible to get it right, because two people can see the exact same event and think significantly different things happened.  (You can call this the tan-and-white-or-blue-and-black-dress phenomenon.)  That’s just how people’s eyes work.  There are plays that clearly go one way, and plays that clearly go the other way, and there are a whole lot in some nebulous middle.  And for all those in-between plays, there are some, like the Dez Braynt non-catch, that even in super slow motion, from ten different hi-def camera angles, it’s still not obvious what the right call is.  For a such play, I think neither team has a legitimate complaint if the call does not go their way.  Sometimes the light reflecting off the replay screen, being absorbed by the official’s retinas, just doesn’t bounce your way.  That’s how it goes.

Urban Shocker All-Stars Available Now

I wrote a book.  It’s a frivolous, silly book about baseball, and I couldn’t be more proud of it.  If you are a baseball fan buy a copy.  Even if you aren’t, buy a copy anyway.  You will be helping to support indie arts.

Hard copies of Urban Shocker All-Stars: The 100 Greatest Baseball Names Ever are now available at Amazon at the provided link, or if you prefer an e-version, just search for it in the Kindle store.  It will be available on other e-readers soon.

Is Jimmy Graham Already the Greatest Seahawks Tight End Ever? A Very Pathetic Top-10 List

After a spate of activity a week ago, the Seahawks Hot Stove season appears to be in abeyance.  There are rumors of course, there are always rumors, but nothing has been substantiated, and it appears as if nothing will — until something is, which could be at any moment.  It’s not like any of us saw the Jimmy Graham trade coming — or the Harvin deal, for that matter.  But I’m going to take this moment of relative inactivity to do another top-10 list.  It’s become my de facto off-season theme, and I’m sticking to it!

In my last post I noted that Jimmy Graham’s 2014 season, widely viewed as a “down year” for him, would have been the greatest season by a tight end in Seahawks franchise history.  After looking into the matter further, I could not believe how right I was.  As you will see, the ‘Hawks have never had anything close to a great season from a tight end.

So here they are: the ten greatest tight end seasons in Seahawks history.

(Note: Just for fun, I picked ten seasons from ten different tight ends.  The results would barely change if I included multiple seasons from the same player.)

10.  John Sawyer, 1980: 36 rec., 410 yds., 0 TD
We begin with a player I had never even heard of until, like, two hours ago.  In 1980, John Sawyer started all 16 games at tight end for the 4-12 ‘Hawks.  That’s about the extent of his highlight reel for the season — or his career.

9.  Christian Fauria, 1998: 37 rec., 377 yds., 2TD
The Seahawks went 55-57 during the seven years Fauria was on the roster (1995-2001).  This actually is a perfect macrocosm of Fauria the player.  He was exactly not quite average.

8.  Carlester Crumpler, 1997: 31 rec., 361 yds., 1 TD
Warren Moon threw for over 3,500 yards with the ‘Hawks in 1997.  Very few of those went to tight ends.  If coolness of name was a criterion in this ranking, Carlester Crumpler would be near the top of the list.

7.  Ron Howard, 1976: 47 rec., 422 yds., 0 TD
Back in 1976, Seattle made a Splash by fielding a football team in the NFL for the first time ever.  They were Far and Away the worst team in the NFC, but that didn’t stop their Gung Ho fans from following them ardently.  One of the players they read about in The Paper was a tight end named Ron Howard.  He had A Beautiful Mind for football and was as tall as a Willow making him a good target for quarterback Jim Zorn.  Unfortunately, Howard suffered from a case of Arrested Development and never again had a season like he did in 1976.  The ‘Hawks eventually had to move on to better options as they were in a Rush to get out of the doldrums and experience some Happy Days.

6.  Luke Willson, 2014: 22 rec., 362 yds., 3 TD
Nominally, Willson might have lost his starting job heading into 2015, but I foresee his playing time changing very little.  He’s a decent pass catcher and blocker, and I imagine the ‘Hawks will use a lot of twin-tight end sets, often putting Graham in the slot.  My prediction is that in 2015 Willson replicates or improves upon his numbers from last year — which would be a boon, being that they constitute the sixth best season from a tight end in franchise history.

5.  Zach Miller, 2002: 38 rec., 396 yds., 3 TD
As Seattle’s big-ticket, free-agent signing in 2011, Zach Miller didn’t pan out.  He didn’t not pan out, but he didn’t pan out either.  He did something ill-defined in between.  He was hardly a prolific receiver, catching just 102 passes in four seasons, but he could block well, and he had, without question, the single greatest game from a tight end in franchise history.  He also made this play (0:35 mark), and he made the play before this play.  A lot of people don’t remember, but it was 3rd-and-22 immediately prior to the 4th-and-7, Wilson-to-Kearse bomb.  Without Miller’s 15 yard reception the play before, the touchdown doesn’t happen.

4.  Jerramy Stevens, 2005: 45 rec., 554 yds., 5 TD
Ugh… I hate that this dirt bag was a solid contributor on the first Super Bowl team in franchise history, but he was.  Although since he and Ben Roethlisberger each scored a touchdown in the big game, it affords me the opportunity to point out that Super Bowl XL is the only Super Bowl in which alleged rapists scored for each team.

3.  Charle Young, 1983: 36 rec., 529 yds., 2 TD
It’s not Charlie Young; it’s Charle Young.  As a rookie in 1973, Young was actually an All-Pro tight end with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he made three straight Pro Bowls (’73-’75).  By the time he got to Seattle in 1983, he was well past his prime, but still a pretty good pass catcher.  Although he reeled in only 36 balls on the season, he went for 529 yards, a 14.5 yards-per-reception rate, which is not too shabby for a tight end.  Also, to my knowledge, Young was not a degenerate sleazeball, which is why I ranked his season ahead of Stevens’ on this list.

2.  John Carlson, 2008: 55 rec., 627 yds., 5 TD
Despite playing just three seasons in the blue and highlighter green, John Carlson was the tight end of choice for the 35th anniversary Seahawks “Dream Team”.  Although, personally, I would have gone with Itula Mili, it’s tough to argue that Carlson was definitively the wrong pick.  The ‘Hawks just haven’t had any really good tight ends.  Carlson’s best season came as rookie in 2008, when he set franchise highs in receptions and receiving yards for a tight end.

1.  Itula Mili, 2003: 46 rec., 492 yds., 4 TD
By traditional numbers, Mili in 2003 was not as prolific as Carlson in 2008, but by advanced metrics he was better.  Mili was a sneakily effective outlet for Matt Hasselbeck, back in the day, as evidenced by his 156 DYAR in 2003, the third highest total in the NFL that season.  (Carlson by comparison had 137 DYAR in 2008.)  Mili was also reasonably productive in the 2003 Wild Card loss to the Packers, catching six passes for 62 yards.  So this is it.  It ain’t much to look at, but Itula’s 2003 campaign — a year in which he didn’t even hit 50 catches nor 500 yards — is the greatest single season by a tight end in Seahawks history.  Let’s just hope that this is no longer the case on this date next year.  If it is, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Seahawks Acquire … Jimmy Graham?!

I was hoping the Seahawks would take a run at Brandon Graham.  I had no idea Jimmy Graham was even remotely in the picture.

There’s a scene in Jerry Maguire (yes, I realize that by making a Jerry Maguire reference I’m getting dangerously close to “Sports Guy Wannabe” territory, but I think it’s a good analogy, so bear with me) when Jerry tells Rod he’s unsure of his feelings for Dorothy, and so Rod tells him he must have a talk with her about it.  Smash cut to Jerry and Dorothy getting married.  And then during the reception Rod and Jerry have the following conversation:

Rod:  You didn’t have the talk, did you?
Jerry: No.
Rod (bemusedly looking around at all the wedding festivities): Well, this definitely was another way to go.

That’s how I’m feeling with the Seahawks right now.  I was expecting a signing like Cary Williams or Will Blackmon.  But trading for Jimmy Graham?!  This definitely was another way to go.

Is it a good way to go?  I see both sides of this one.  I don’t hate the trade and I don’t love it.  I’ll briefly make the case for each side.

Why I Like It
Jimmy Graham was the most productive tight end in the league two years ago.  And there is no reason why he can’t replicate something close to that next year.  He’s only 28, and he was hurt last season, which is likely why his numbers dipped.  And even his “bad” year was way more productive than that of any of the Seahawks tight ends.  (Actually, Jimmy Graham’s 2014 season would have been the greatest tight end season in franchise history, by far.)  I mean, it was fun to watch Luke Willson catch that 80-yard touchdown pass against the Cardinals and score two big touchdowns against the Panthers, but he caught 22 passes all season and only six in the postseason.  He’s a fine player, but I like him much better as an insurance policy in case Graham flops than as a go-to receiver.

Also it will be nice to not have to worry about whether or not Max Unger will be healthy enough to play anymore.  I think he’s a bigger health risk than Graham.  He suited up for just 19 games the past two seasons; he’s a tiny bit older than Graham; and he plays a more physically demanding position.  Plus Unger has really only had one dominating season (in 2012 he was deservedly an All-Pro).  The ‘Hawks were unquestionably better when he was on the field, but in 2013 and 2104, they went 10-3 without him and 15-4 with him, so it’s not like they are incapable of winning without Max Unger.

Why I Don’t Like It
The bust potential is relatively high for Graham.  I don’t think it’s likely that he suddenly morphs into a glorified version of Jerramy Stevens, but it’s a possibility.  And at a cost of a good starting center, a first-round-fourth-round draft pick swap, and $5 million more against the cap ($10 million for Graham minus $5 million for Unger), it is reasonable to conclude the total risk outweighs the total reward.

To further this point, if you look at Graham’s DVOA scores at Football Outsiders, one thing that jumps out is that on a per-play basis he has not been dominant throughout his career.  Now, per-play numbers can be misleading because part of being a good player is doing it all the time (the tight end with the highest DVOA last season was Tim Wright).  But what this might mean is that Graham’s numbers were overstating his value because the Saints were forcing-feeding him the ball.  Then there is the fact that Graham is a notoriously bad blocker, so if he isn’t a threat in the passing game, then he isn’t much of anything.

What I Don’t Care About
Graham’s beef with Michael Bennett and Bruce Irvin.  This story will go away very quickly, if it hasn’t already.    For one thing, Graham plays offense and Bennett and Irvin play defense; they don’t even have to interact.  For another, NFL players talk shit to each other all the time; NFL players scuffle with each other all the time; NFL players switch teams all the time.  It stands to reason that many NFL players have teammates with whom they have previously talked shit and/or scuffled.  Plus, if the Seahawks of the past two years, have taught us anything, it’s that locker room “turmoil” doesn’t necessarily affect on-field results.  I mean, considering all the past rumors about Percy Harvin and Golden Tate and Russell Wilson (and Russell Wilson’s ex-wife) and Marshawn Lynch and Pete Carroll, maybe we should hope for another story about off-field discord.  It just means another Super Bowl appearance is likely on the horizon.

Beast Mode is Back (And That’s a Very Good Thing)

The speculation can end.  Beast Mode is coming back.  And that’s a very good thing.

There is a relatively new maxim in the NFL that teams should not commit a lot of their resources to a running back.  Because they get the ball so often, and thus get tackled so often, and because they rely heavily on “young guy skills,” like quickness and burst, running backs are particularly susceptible to the deleterious effects of injury and aging.  There are so many examples of guys going from the top of the rushing leader board to being released, seemingly overnight, that I came up with a term just for this phenomenon: SOSAD (Sudden Onset Shaun Alexander Disorder).  Couple this with a league-wide increase in passing and the fact that each year five or six running backs emerge from the scrap heap to be their teams’ featured ball carriers, and you can see why many people don’t view high-priced running backs as wise investments.  If I was an NFL GM, I would hold this view myself.

But …

There are always exceptions.  Furthermore, there are three big reasons to believe that Marshawn Lynch is just such an exception.  Let’s examine these reasons one-by-one.

Marshawn Lynch is a Really, Really Good, Unique Fit for the Seahawks
Pick any metric you want — old-school or advanced — and you will come to the conclusion that Beast Mode is one of the (if not the) best running backs in the NFL.  And he has been for three years.  In extending Lynch, the Seahawks are retaining an exceptional player.  This isn’t like the Jaguars overplaying for Toby Gerhart.  A better analogy — if you don’t mind taking a trip back in time twenty-plus years — is that this is like the Cowboys ponying up to end Emmitt Smith‘s holdout in 1993.

Lynch was the best offensive player on a very good offensive team last year, and — this a key point so I’m going to use italics — there is nobody else who can step in immediately and do anything close to what he does.  Robert Turbin hasn’t proven to be much more than a replacement level back, and if Christine Michael was anything special, he probably wouldn’t be behind Turbin on the depth chart.  The ‘Hawks could target a running back in the draft this year.  But who knows if a good one will be available at pick 31.  And who knows if he will work out even if there is and the ‘Hawks pick him?  It’s highly unlikely any rookie running back will be at Lynch’s level next year.

The Seahawks aren’t the early 2000s Broncos.  They don’t have a plug-and-play run game.  It’s not a “system” and it’s not the offensive line (which is average at best).  It’s Beast Mode (and Russell Wilson, of course, but mainly Beast Mode).  Lynch does more “solo work” than any running back in the league.  He led the league last year in yards-after-contact (sorry for linking to a random tweet, the original data is paywalled), and his broken tackle numbers were off the charts (I could only find 2013 data).  Not that you even really need numbers to tell you this — every football fan in the world knows how difficult it is to tackle Lynch, and every defensive player in the NFL knows it even better, even the 250-pound linebackers.  Seattle’s offense is substantially worse without Lynch.  That’s almost certainly the reality of the situation.

The Timing is Right
One of the biggest false dichotomies in sports is that teams must “build for today” or “build for the future”.  The truth is that well-run franchises do both simultaneously.  That’s how the Patriots can be good for over a decade despite turning over their entire (non-Brady) roster.  (Well, that and they play in a perennially weak division.)  With that said, smart teams are mindful of when to emphasize the present and when to emphasize the future.  The Seahawks came within a yard of winning back-to-back Super Bowls, and they have the entire core from last year coming back this year (except Byron Maxwell).  They have to chase rings while they can — strike while the iron is hot.  There is almost certainly going to come a time when the Seahawks have to go cheap at running back.  But now is not it.

The Contract is Not as Expensive as It Looks — and What Else are the Seahawks Going to Do with It Anyway?
NFL contracts are notoriously difficult to parse, but this is how I understand things: This year Lynch gets between $8.5 million and $12.5 million, which ain’t cheap, but if he does anything close to what he’s done the past three years, it will be worth it; for 2016, it’s around $10 or $11 million; and for 2017, it’s between $8.5 and $12.5 million.*  Again that’s top money, and a lot to pay for an aging runner, but there is a decent chance the ‘Hawks won’t be on the hook for all of it.  For one thing, Lynch might be serious about wanting to retire soon.  For another, in 2016 and 2017 only $5 million to $8 million of it is guaranteed (I’m not sure how the roster bonus works).  So if Lynch does catch SOSAD, it’s not going to be great, but it’s not going to destroy the Seahawks’ cap completely.  As a point of reference, Percy Harvin is costing $7.2 million against the cap this year alone.

Plus, even with Lynch getting big money this year, the ‘Hawks still have $20-$25 million free to spend.  Who are they possibly going to get with an additional $12 million that’s going to be as valuable as Lynch?  I’m assuming this isn’t going to affect a long term deal with Russell Wilson (or, hopefully, Bobby Wagner).  I think (hope?) the Seahawks would not have done the Lynch deal if it was.  What seems most likely to me is that the Wilson deal, although it’s certain to be huge, won’t have an enormous cap hit immediately.  This will allow the ‘Hawks to keep the current team intact for a while.  Then when this group starts getting older and less effective, that’s when the ‘Hawks will retool around their high-priced quarterback.  It doesn’t make sense to start letting go of important pieces now, when the team is awesome and guys are in their prime, if it can possibly be put off until later, when guys aren’t as good.

Despite the rumors, the Seahawks aren’t getting Ndamukong Suh; they probably aren’t getting Julius Thomas either.  (Plus, I’d much rather have Lynch than Thomas.)  In addition to trying to extend Wilson and Wagner, the ‘Hawks are probably going to go hard after after a few mid-range free agents who are willing to take a bit of a “chasing a ring” discount (Andre Johnson?  Brandon Graham?  Vince Wilfork?), and then fill in everywhere else with draftees and those out-of-the-woordwork, “where did this guy come from?” guys they have been so good at developing over the past half-decade.  Signing Lynch doesn’t preclude any of this.

The bottom line: The 2015 Seahawks would have had a gaping hole in their offense without Marshawn Lynch.  Now that hole is filled, and they have a realistic shot at a deep playoff run for the fourth straight season.  It cost money — Lynch forced their hand with his retirement talk — but it was money well spent.  This is not a move that would make sense for every team.  It is not a move for a team that is emphasizing the long run.  But the Seahawks are the defending NFC Champions for the second consecutive off-season; they are not “every” team.  They are not emphasizing the long run — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  After all, as John Maynard Keynes famously quipped, “In the long run we are all dead.”

*I’m using ranges instead of exact figures because the numbers from Spotrac don’t match exactly what’s being reported in the media.  However, the totals are close, as is the breakdown of guaranteed versus non-guaranteed money.  Perhaps the accounting — what amount goes against the cap in what year — hasn’t been completely worked out yet.  This is what I mean when I say NFL contracts are difficult to parse.

Off-Season Olio: Top Ten Seahawks Running Backs

The lists continue.  And why not?  There isn’t much else Seahawks-related stuff to do right now.  I mean, we could speculate endlessly on what Marshawn Lynch meant with his latest set of cryptic comments, but I’d prefer not to do that.  I’m starting to think Lynch is an Andy Kaufman-esque madman, and he’s playing a never-ending prank on football fans everywhere that exists only in his own head.  Well, if that’s the case, I’m not falling for it anymore.  Say or don’t say whatever you want Beast Mode, announce your retirement or don’t.  It doesn’t matter to me.  I’m onto you.

But since he’s in the news and I’m doing a bunch of Seattle-centric lists, it only makes sense to do the top ten running backs in Seahawks history.

10.  Mack Strong, 1994-2007
Mack Carlington Strong: If I was only going by name, he would be number one on the list.  In his 14-year career, spent entirely with the Seahawks (the second longest in franchise history), Strong was used almost exclusively as a blocking back.  In fact, you can argue he had so few carries in his career (never more than 40 in a season), that he doesn’t even qualify as a “running back”.  But I put him on this list because he was a really good fullback — a two-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro selection in 2005 — and because I couldn’t stomach putting Julius Jones on it.  Nothing against Mr. Jones personally, it’s just that it was abysmal watching the ‘Hawks those years when he was the focal point of the offense.

(The only Mack Strong highlight I could find.)

9.  Maurice Morris, 2002-2008
Are we sure Maurice Morris and Robert Turbin aren’t the same person?  They have similar builds and styles and both began their careers by being the sub for a superstar running back.  If Marshawn Lynch doesn’t return to the team this year, and Turbin takes over as the starter and does a fair to middling job in his place before going to the Detroit Lions, then things will really get eerie.

Morris wasn’t a fantastic runner, but he was a decent enough “bridge” back — he got most his carriers in the years between the first two Seattle Super Bowls and wasn’t a total disaster.  Also, he once went for $73 in a free agent auction in my fantasy league.  A team’s budget for the entire season is $100.  Yes, that really happened.

8.  Dan Doornink, 1979-1985
“Dr. Dan” was both the best white running back and the greatest number two running back in franchise history.  He never led the team in rushing, but he ranks tenth in career yardage.  Doornink was also a reliable target through the air, and he had a reputation for being clutch, which is what bumped him ahead of Morris on this list.  He was nicknamed “Mr. Third Down” for his propensity to pick up crucial first downs, and his best ever performance came in the only Seattle playoff win in the two-plus decades from 1983 to 2005.

After retiring from football, Doornink became an M.D. in Yakima.  This ranks him a very distance second in the “Best NFL Running Back Who Later Studied Medicine” category.

7.  Sherman Smith, 1976-1982
He’s the team’s current running back coach, and he was also the first ever featured back in a Seahawks offense.  As a rookie in Seattle’s inaugural season, Sherman Smith led the team in rushing with 537 yards.  That’s not a huge total, but Smith did it on just 119 attempts (4.5 Y/A), and he added another 384 yards through the air.  He was quietly effective, not just for the year, but for the next half decade.  Although he never topped 805 yards in a season, during his peak, Smith was one of the better running backs in the league as evidenced by his three straight seasons (1977-1979) with double digit approximate value totals.  The only knock against “The Tank” (get it?) is that he didn’t do it long enough.  A knee injury sidelined Smith for most of the 1980 season, and contrary to the optimism he expresses in this 1981 article from the Ellensburg Daily Record, he never had another good season.

6.  Ricky Watters, 1998-2001
Interesting tidbit about Ricky Watters: He was the first NFLer to rush for 1,000 yards in a season with three different teams.  (Willis McGahee also did it after Watters.)  As a rookie with the 49ers in 1992, he went for 1,003 (then had one of the all-time great Super Bowl performances two years later), and then with the Eagles he topped the 1,000-yard mark three times, including a career high 1,411 in 1996, when he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,855 yards).  But surprisingly, Watters put up more total yards with the Seahawks than he did with either of his previous two teams.

Or maybe this isn’t surprising if you remember that Watters was really, really good for the ‘Hawks for a solid three years from 1998 through 2000.  He was the best player on the offense each season during that stretch, never running for fewer than 1,200 yards and never compiling fewer than 1,550 yards from scrimmage.  Really, the only knock on Watters is that he didn’t have any postseason success in Seattle.  Oh, and also there was the “For who?  For what?” quote, but that was in Philly.

5.  John L. Williams, 1986-1993
John L. Williams was an old-school fullback in that he actually got to touch the ball.  Today fullbacks are either plodding white guys who seemingly only get on the field so that the crowd can call out their name in unison (“K-u-u-u-u-h-n”), or they are dudes who might play fullback one play and then left guard the next.  They are seldom ball handlers.  But 25 years ago, fullbacks were still a focal point of the offense.  In fact, in the case of John L. Williams, he was the focal point of the offense for several years.

From 1988 to 1991, Williams led the ‘Hawks in yards from scrimmage each season.  Although he did get a fair amount of carries (10 or so a game), he mainly contributed as a pass catcher out of the backfield.  His 471 receptions with the Seahawks is the third most in franchise history, and his 546 total receptions ranks tenth all-time among running backs.  But Williams also fulfilled the traditional fullback role, as he was an excellent blocker, as well.  Basically, he was just an all around stud (“Big John L. Studd?”), but don’t take my word for it; believe the unidentified narrator in the clip below.

4.  Chris Warren, 1990-1997
I really wanted to put the extremely underrated Chris Warren ahead of Curt Warner, but I couldn’t quite justify it.  The general perception is that Warner was the far superior Seattle running back with the initials C.W. (in Pro Football Reference’s crowd-sourced Elo ratings, for instance, at the time I write this, Warner rates as the 171st best offensive player ever, Warren is just the 451st), but the truth is they were actually very, very close.  I would say Warner was a bit better (which is why he’s ahead of Warren on this list) — but it’s just that: a bit better.  Chris Warren was really good.

The problem is that Warren’s teams were not good.  And when a very good player is on a perpetual loser, it tends to obscure his very-goodness.  Used almost exclusively as a return man early in his career, Warren took over as the starting halfback in 1992 on a 2-14 team.  Over the next three years, he was arguably the best running back in the AFC; he made the Pro Bowl each season, accumulated over 4,000 total rushing yards, and scored 34 touchdowns.  His 1994 campaign was particularly impressive, as Warren ran for 1,545 yards and added 323 more through the air, giving him 1,868 yards from scrimmage, the second highest total in Seahawks history. But the ‘Hawks, mired with Rick Mirer at quarterback, didn’t have a single winning season when Warren was the featured back.  This is likely the main reason he isn’t held in higher esteem by football fans today.

It also didn’t help that Warren blew up just after the release of Tecmo Super Bowl.  When I used to play with the Seahawks on that game, I always wanted to sub Warren in and rack up the yardage within him.  But, alas, his avatar was slow and weak, and so I would usually end up repeatedly throwing it to Jeff Chadwick, who was good on that game for some reason.

Anyway, here’s a cool YouTube video of Warren taking it to the house (second clip) in a 1995 Sunday Night Football blowout of the Raiders.

3.  Curt Warner, 1983-1989
Did you ever know somebody who likes football, but isn’t a die-hard fan, so they only have a few go-to facts, so they tell you them over and over again, and you don’t say anything because they’re just being friendly and trying to make conversation?  That was my dad watching the Seahawks when I was a kid: “Did you know Curt Warner ran the ball 60 yards on his first carry as a Seahawk?” he used to say to me seemingly every game.  I did know it — every time but the first time he told me.

The big run to which my dad was referring came in the first game of the 1983 season, which the ‘Hawks lost to Kansas City 13-17.  But don’t fret, they got revenge later in the season, beating the Chiefs in a spectacular 51-48 overtime shootout, with Warner having the best game of his career, going for 207 and three scores.  Then a month later the rookie was sensational in Seattle’s upset win over the Dolphins in the AFC divisional round.

But in Week 1 of the following year, Warner tore his ACL, missing what, for many years, was the best regular season in franchise history (imagine if the ‘Hawks had had a healthy Warner).  Although he made two more Pro Bowls post-injury (’86 and ’87), Warner had a relatively short career (just seven seasons), likely due, at least in part, to the long-term effects of his knee injury.  Nevertheless, Warner is a Seahawks Ring of Honor member, and he is the third best running back in franchise history, in my book … or blog, rather.

2.  Shaun Alexander, 2000-2007
Because his greatness evaporated so quickly and because it never looked like he was playing hard (“Eric Dickerson Disease”), there is, I think, a tendency to forget just how special a running back Shaun Alexander really was.  Sure, he ran behind Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson most his career, but a good offensive line alone cannot explain the numbers Alexander churned out for the five-year stretch between 2001 and 2005.  It was one of the most productive half-decades for a running back in NFL history (especially in terms of fantasy production — see the video below).  And it culminated with Alexander’s record-breaking MVP year of 2005, which is, in my opinion, the greatest single-season by a Seahawk in franchise history.  In fact, if I was only considering the regular season, then I would put Alexander number one on this list.  But I’m not only considering the regular season, so number one goes to somebody else …

1.  Marshawn Lynch, 2010-2014
And that somebody else is, of course, Marshawn Lynch.  He still needs at least two more monster seasons to have a chance to catch Alexander in terms of raw regular-season production.  But I put Lynch at the top of the list because of what he’s done in the postseason.  It seems to be the bigger the stage, the higher the Beast Mode setting.  To wit, in his ten playoff games, Lynch as gone over 130 yards four times, and he’s gone over 100 yards six times.  And in three of the four games he didn’t top the century mark, the Seahawks either fell way behind early and had to throw to get back into it (Chicago 2010, Atlanta 2012), or they were so far ahead (Super Bowl XLVIII) that it didn’t really matter what they did on offense for most the game.  Really, the Carolina match this year was the only playoff game in which it was close for much the contest and Lynch was shut down.  And by “shut down” I mean he averaged 4.2 yards-per-attempt and helped open up the passing game so that Russell Wilson could go nuts.

Of course it’s not just the consistency in the postseason that makes Lynch a living Seahawks legend; it’s also the iconic runs.  Quick, name Shaun Alexander’s most impactful run as a Seahawk.  Nothing comes immediately to mind, does it?  Yet with Lynch, you’ve got this one or this one or this one or this one.  And that’s before even mentioning the two huge pass receptions he had in this year’s postseason (0:43 mark here and 0:50 mark here).  Beast Mode has already establish the greatest postseason résumé in Seattle playoff history and hopefully he will return next season to try to add to it.  Because if he doesn’t — if he does really decide to retire — the lasting memory for too many Seahawks fans will be of the one great postseason run he didn’t get the chance to make.

Off-Season Olio: Top Ten Seahawks Quarterbacks

It’s the off-season.  I’m not one for the NFL combine or free agency rumors or even the NFL draft.  Those things, to me, are prefab football — they’re non-events, hyped as if they’re something meaningful.  They are inventions of the NFL, created to try to take advantage of vulnerable NFL fans, who are in football withdrawal.  Don’t go for them.  Be strong.  If  you need a football fix, do what I do: Read or write silly lists about your favorite franchise.

Last week I did the ten worst losses in Seahawks history.  And in so doing, I got caught up watching a YouTube video of the third quarter of Seattle’s loss to Green Bay in the 2003 Wild Card game.  Although the ‘Hawks were defeated in excruciating fashion, they outscored the Packers 14-0 in the third quarter, so the video was actually pleasurable to watch.  I forgot just how good and fun the Seahawks offense was back then, especially Matt Hasselbeck.  And it got me thinking: Is Hasselbeck the greatest Seahawks quarterback ever, or has Russell Wilson surpassed him already?  Let’s figure it all out with a Seahawks QB top-ten list.

10.  Jeff Kemp, 1987-1991
Sure, he only started five games for the Seahawks and threw twice as many interceptions (18) as touchdowns (9).  But he was my favorite backup of the ’80s.  This almost entirely stems from one game in 1987 against Detroit, in which he threw three touchdowns to Steve Largent in the first quarter.  What happened is, with the NFL strike close to ending, a few players came back early, Largent and Kemp being two of them, and so the regulars got to feast on the scabby Lions D.  It wasn’t a fair fight, and in retrospect it makes sense that Kemp and Largent, two conservatives (remember Jeff’s dad?  Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996?), would break early from the union, but it was fun as hell for 10-year-old me to watch at the time.  So I give the nod to Jeff Kemp.  Although, if I was going strictly on merit, without the nostalgia factor, I’d put John Friesz here.

9.  Charlie Whitehurst, 2010-2011
Yes, he only played nine games for the Seahawks.  Yes, he went 1-3 in his four starts.  Yes, the ‘Hawks squandered a third-round pick on him.  But Whitehurst did have two great moments in the blue and highlighter green: He led the team to the playoffs by winning the final game of the 2010 season, and he threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the epic upset of the Giants in 2011.  For this, I rank Chaz Whitehurst number nine.  Plus, who else is it going to be — Rick Mirer, Seneca Wallace?  Exactly.

8.  Trent Dilfer, 2001-2004
In 2001, the Seahawks went 9-7 and were eliminated from the playoffs in the final week of the season.  They probably would have made it if Dilfer started every game of the season.  Matt Hasselbeck was in his first season as a starter and not very good yet.  He mostly played poorly in his 12 starts going 5-7 and throwing more picks (8) than touchdowns (7).  Dilfer, on the other hand, was pretty good, winning all four of starts, including a three touchdown performance in a clutch late-season victory over San Diego.  Dilfer actually began the next season as the starting quarterback, the first time he had done so since 1999 (despite squeezing a Super Bowl win in there), but he was injured in the preseason and then hit-or-miss when he returned.  When he went down with an Achilles tear in Week 8, Hasselbeck took over for good … and was good.

7.  Tarvaris Jackson, 2011-2014
Heading into the Super Bowl against the Broncos, I kept having a recurring fantasy in which Russell Wilson gets hurt early in the game and T-Jax comes in to lead Seattle to the promise land and claim the Super Bowl MVP.  As you might recall, things didn’t actually play out this way.  But what it means (other than I need to start reading Anaïs Nin to develop some better fantasies) is that I don’t think Jackson is a terrible quarterback.  He’s not good, just not bad.  He has his moments.  His career record as a starter is 17-17, 7-7 with the Seahawks, and he’s thrown 39 touchdowns and 35 picks.  On a decent team, he’s a .500 quarterback — and that’s good enough to be an NFL backup and be the seventh best quarterback in Seattle history.

6.  Warren Moon, 1997-1998
Obviously, Mr. Moon would be much higher had he played more than two professional seasons in Seattle.  He’s the only Seahawks quarterback in the Hall of Fame.  A UW grad, who was well past his prime by the time he returned to the shores of Puget Sound, Moon actually had a very good season in 1997.  In fact, in terms of total production it was arguably the best passing season in pre-Hasselbeckian Seahawks history: 313 completions, 3,678 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 1 Pro-Bowl MVP.  Moon also gets some extra credit for making one of the greatest radio calls in franchise history: “Game over, baby!

5.  Jon Kitna, 1997-2000
The local boy who hit it big.  I remember watching Kitna play in person at a Central Washington University game circa 1994 and thinking to myself, “dang, this dude is pretty good for the NAIA.”  Little did I know he would go on to star in NFL Europe with the Barcelona Dragons and then take over as the starter for the Seahawks midseason 1998.  (In my defense, it would be really spooky if I foresaw all that at the time.)  Kitna’s best season was 1999, when he beat out another local boy from a much more renown school, Brock Huard, for the starting job, and then took the team to their first playoff appearance in a decade.  The next year, he entered the season again as the starter, but he had an up-and-down season and failed to endear himself to Mike Holmgren.  I remember hearing a Holmgren quote at the time that was something like (paraphrase), “My backup in Green Bay is better than my starter here.”  So he traded for said backup, effectively ending Kitna’s days in Seattle.

4.  Jim Zorn, 1976-1984
The eponymous Mr. Zorn.  He was the first ever Seahawks quarterback, and he was a pretty good one, all things considered.  Yeah, he lost a lot more games than he won (44-62), but when you start your career as the quarterback of an expansion franchise, in 1976, that’s going to happen.  Zorn’s best seasons were 1978 and 1979 when each year he finished among the top five in passing yardage and led the team to a 9-7 record, missing the playoffs by a single game.  Zorn was also an excellent scrambler, one of those lithe lefties who looked so natural throwing on the run.  Four times he topped 200 yards rushing in a season.  Really, the only knock on Zorn is that he never started a postseason game.  By the time the ‘Hawks were good enough to make the playoffs, there was a new floppy-haired sheriff in town.

3.  Dave Krieg, 1980-1991
Signed in 1980 out of a college in Iowa that no longer exists, Krieg had to wait a few years behind Zorn before getting his break midway through the 1983 season.  To say he made the most of his opportunity is an understatement: He took the team to within a game of making the Super Bowl.  Proving it was no fluke, Krieg had his best season the following year, throwing for over 3,500 yards and over 30 touchdowns, leading the ‘Hawks to a 12-4 finish without star running back Curt Warner (a great “what if” season).  Although he never again matched his ’84 production, Krieg went on to be a pretty good to slightly above average quarterback for the next 14 years (seven in Seattle).  I’ve never seen any numbers that bear this out, but my memory of Krieg is as a quintessential streak QB.  He seemingly had more than his fair share of five turnover days, but when he got hot, he was as good as anybody in the league.  He was like Jay Cutler, without the pouty face.

2.  Matt Hasselbeck, 2001-2010
Regular season versus regular season, I would actually take Dave Krieg over Matt Hasselbeck, but Matthew gets the bump because of his postseason success.  He took the team to the playoffs six times (to Krieg’s four), and he usually played pretty well when they got there (even in loss).  His game against the Saints in the Beast Quake Bowl is either the best or second best QB performance in Seahawks postseason history.  Hasselbeck is also the all-time franchise leader in passing yards, and he’s the greatest bald quarterback, among all franchises, since Terry Bradshaw.

1.  Russell Wilson, 2012-2014
You were expecting Stan Gelbaugh?  Of course it’s Russell Wilson.  He’s only played three seasons, but those seasons, on a per play basis, have been so far beyond what any other Seahawks quarterback has ever accomplished that it’s more than enough to secure the number one spot.  There’s also the fact that Wilson is on pace to be one of the best running quarterbacks ever and that he’s the most exciting player in the league (IMHO).  Oh, and then there’s this: He came within a yard of winning back-to-back Super Bowls.  Russell Wilson is already the best quarterback in Seahawks history.  And it’s not even close.

Two and a Half Weeks Later: The 10 Worst Seahawks Losses Ever

Two and a half weeks later and I stand by what I wrote in my entry immediately after the game.  Perhaps I would phrase it differently today, perhaps I would leave out the soul-searching preamble, and I definitely wouldn’t use all-caps, but I think my point stands: The general idea was not bad; the specific play call and execution were.  But this is old news.  Nobody wants to hear it now, and I don’t want to write about it.

Instead, as a final act of catharsis for the 2014 Seahawks season, let’s see just where this Super Bowl defeat fits among the all-time worst Seahawks losses.  (Spoiler alter: It’s not number one for me.)  Here are my top ten, from least to most painful.

10.  Ravens 44 — Seahawks 41: Week 12, 2003
Why it was painful: The ‘Hawks held a 17-point lead midway through the third quarter — and then Anthony Wright threw his second, third, and fourth touchdown passes to Marcus Robinson and the Ravens won in OT.  That’s literally what happened: the ‘Hawks were smoked by the legendary combination of Wright-to-Robinson.  To make matters worse, the Ravens never should have had time to kick the game-tying field goal in regulation.  The referees stopped the clock on a nullified penalty and never restarted it, giving the Ravens a de facto time out and one last chance they never should have had.

Mitigating Factors:  It was a regular season game that ultimately had no affect on the Seahawks’ playoff position.

9.  Packer 42 — Seahawks 20: NFC Division Round 2007
Why it was painful:  The Seahawks led 14-0 five minutes into the game and looked poised to upset the Packers in Green Bay in the playoffs.  Then Ryan Grant, whose two fumbles led to the two early Seattle scores, went for 200+ yards and three scores.  Brett Favre added three more touchdowns through the air.  I walked home from my neighborhood watering hole in the snow dejectedly.

Mitigating Factors:  Old man Favre got his comeuppance the next week against the Giants — and a few years later.

8.  Rams 27 — Seahawks 20: NFC Wild Card 2004
Why it was painful:  The Rams were not very good and yet they beat the ‘Hawks three times that season (a third of their total wins), twice in Seattle, including this game.  The Seahawks had a chance to tie the game on the penultimate play but Bobby Engram dropped a catchable (but tough) ball in the end zone.  This was Jerry Rice‘s last game in the NFL, and he didn’t catch a pass.

Mitigating Factors:  The Seahawks were not that good either.  They weren’t going much further even if they won.

7.  Oilers 23 — Seahawks 20: AFC Wild Card 1988
Why it was painful:  It was Steve Largent‘s last really great game, and the Seahawks lost on an overtime field goal by one of the Zendejaseses.  Total buzz kill for 11-year old me.

Mitigating Factors:  It was the strike season, and the Seahawks only made the playoffs because their scabs beat the Dolphins’ scabs in Week 3 of the season.  In retrospect, it’s remarkable that the NFL actually used replacement players — like for real, they did this.  I don’t think they could get away with it today.  I mean, look what happened when they used replacement officials.

6.  Steelers 20 — Seahawks 10: Super Bowl 2005
Why it was painful:  It was the Super Bowl.  And the Seahawks lost.

Mitigating Factors:  There was a modicum of “happy to be there” sentiment.  It was the best the ‘Hawks had ever done.  Plus, the refereeing was so bad, I was numb by the end.  That’s why this is only number six, even though it was the Super Bowl.

5.  Packers 33 — Seahawks 27: NFC Wild Card 2003
Why it was painful: Matt Hasselbeck said “We want the ball, and we’re gonna score,” and then promptly threw a walk-off pick-six.  Actually, the Seahawks punted and then Green Bay punted and then Hasselbeck threw his fateful INT, but nobody really remembers those first two overtime series.  To any event, this was the first time in a long time I was invested in a Seahawks playoff game and one bad ball ruined the party faster than you could say who-the-hell-is-Alex Bannister-and-why-is-he-getting-a-target-in-this-crucial-moment.

Mitigating Factors:  The Seahawks were legitimately good again and fun to watch, and it didn’t feel like a one-season blip (like 1999). Hasselback and Shaun Alexander behind Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson looked like an offense that could win the NFC.  The future was bright.

4.  Bears 27 — Seahawks 24: NFC Divisional Round 2006
Why it was painful: It was Shaun Alexander’s last hurrah.  We all knew the Holmgren-era window was pretty much sealed shut with this loss.  Also, I watched it with a bunch of Bears fans.

Mitigating Factors:  The Bears were better than the Seahawks and playing at home.  The fact the Seahawks even took it to overtime was exciting and was a far-cry better than the 37-6 whipping Chicago gave them during the regular season.

3.  Raiders 30 — Seahawks 14: AFC Championship Game 1983
Why it was painful: The Seahawks beat the Raiders twice in the regular season and were a victory away from pulling off, what would have been, to that point, the least likely Super Bowl run in NFL history.  The entire city was rallying around the Seahawks for the first time ever.  It was awesome — until the actual game started.

Mitigating Factors:  After upsetting the Dolphins, the ‘Hawks were playing with house money.  Plus I was six.  I got over things quickly.

2.  Patriots 28 — Seahawks 24: Super Bowl 2014
Why it was painful: Obvious reasons.

Mitigating Factors:  The Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year.  In the big picture, they came within one-yard of back-to-back titles.  What Seahawks fan would not have taken that given the choice two years ago?

1.  Falcons 30 — Seahawks 28: NFC Divisional Round 2012
Why it was painful: The Seahawks were the best team in the league.  They were better than the Falcons and just had some bad luck at the beginning of the game.  Also, by losing we were deprived of a potentially awesome Seahawks-49ers NFC title game.  And Russell Wilson missed a great opportunity to be the first rookie to win the Super Bowl, and he lost in, arguably, what is still, the best game of his career.  Oh, plus that miraculous comeback was spoiled.  It was just an all-around kick to the nards, if ever there was one.

Mitigating Factors:  Russell Wilson seemed so upbeat after the game.  You got the feeling he and the entire team were going to come back motivated and win the Super Bowl the next year.  And then they did.