This opportunity for the Seahawks to be “special” is now extra special.
Throughout their uneven season, Seattle has alluded to its goal of becoming “special.” These Seahawks have had on their minds since spring minicamps this chance to become the first team in the NFL’s salary-cap era that began in 1994 to play in three consecutive Super Bowls.
“We’re doing things that have really been unprecedented,” is how Darrell Bevell, Seattle’s offensive coordinator and play caller, put it last month at the height of his offense’s record-setting surge in yards, points and passing.
But poor pass protection and miscommunication defending the pass caused 2-4 and 4-5 starts to this season. Those not-so-special months of September and October are why the Seahawks (10-6) now need to win three consecutive road playoff games to reach that goal of a third straight Super Bowl; they had the conference’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the previous two postseasons.
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Playoff road test number one is Sunday here at frigid TCF Bank Stadium against NFC North-champion Minnesota (11-5).
Over the next three weekends Seattle is going to have to win more road playoff games than it has in the franchise’s 40-year history. The Seahawks have just one road playoff victory in the last 32 years: Jan. 6, 2013, at Washington. The other road win in the postseason: Dec. 31, 1983, at Miami.
It’s just one of many extra-special tasks for this 2015 team.
The Seahawks are this postseason’s sixth seed in the NFC, the conference’s second wild card. Since the league expanded the playoffs to six teams in each conference in 1990, six seeds have won just 28 of 76 postseason games (a success rate of 37 percent). Sixth seeds have won multiple games in the same playoffs just four times in those 25 years (2005, ’08, ’10, ’13).
Only two teams seeded sixth have won the Super Bowl: The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl 40, and the 2010 Green Bay Packers, who beat the Steelers in that season’s ultimate game.
All-time, only four teams have ever won three consecutive postseason road games to reach the Super Bowl: those 2010 Packers, the ’07 New York Giants (as a fifth seed), those ’05 Steelers and the fifth-seeded, 1985 New England Patriots.
To which these playoff-tested Seahawks smile and say: Bring it on.
“We embrace this, for sure,” Pro Bowl middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “We feel like this is going to be fun.
“The first two (Super Bowl) years we had home-field advantage. This year is definitely something different. And we are going to embrace it. We look forward to it. We’ve had a lot of good games on the road, a lot of good victories on the road. I think we are ready for it.”
Wagner then brought up the difference between home and away games for Seattle’s defense, which this regular season became the first since the 1953-57 Cleveland Browns to lead the NFL in fewest points allowed for a fourth consecutive season.
It’s what the Seahawks think is a prime reason they’ve won five consecutive road games while allowing an average of just 6.8 points in them. They’ve surrendered just one offensive touchdown in their last five away games.
That includes Dec. 6 at Minnesota, when Seattle held NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson to his season-low of 18 yards on eight carries in a 38-7 rout of the Vikings. In the last month Seattle has won on the road by a combined 74-13 over two of the four division champions, at Minnesota and at Arizona.
That’s why the Seahawks are a five-point favorite against the Vikings Sunday, one of the largest favorites as sixth seed in NFL playoff history.
“I think defensively it’s going to be easier for people to communicate,” Wagner said of playing away from the Seahawks’ ear-splitting CenturyLink Field. “That’s going to make everything for us quicker and easier (this postseason).”
This road dominance starting with the 20-3 crunching in late October of the 49ers in Santa Clara – site of Super Bowl 50 next month, by the way – spanned the Seahawks losing at home Nov. 15 to the Cardinals. That essentially ended the Seahawks’ chances of winning the NFC West for a third consecutive year.
So Seattle got into a pack-your-bags-and-your-lunch-pail state of mind for these playoffs long ago. The Seahawks showed it last weekend. They thrashed Arizona on its home field 36-6 despite both teams already having playoff spots already clinched.
“Weeks back, you could see it kind of coming. So we’ve been setting our sights on preparing to get really right on the road, so that we can max out our opportunities when they come,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “So we’re looking in that regard, yeah, really excited about doing it.
“We know what it’s like to do it when you have a bye and you’re playing at home, and you have two games to win. That’s a pretty good shot.
“This is different. It’s more challenging. There’s three games to get through it … so we’ll see.”
They’ll see it with Marshawn Lynch still out. The lead running back that hasn’t played since that loss to Arizona nearly two months ago decided on Friday as the team was leaving for here that he would be unable to play. That surprised the team, given he had practiced fully all week and Carroll has said the Seahawks were “very optimistic” he’d be full go for the Vikings. He had abdominal surgery Nov. 25 and had been away rehabilitating for all of December with his personal trainers in his native Bay Area. Now backup Christine Michael, not Lynch , will get what Bevell said will be a full workload of perhaps 20 or more carries Sunday.
Those will come against a Vikings defense that will have four key defenders back from injuries they had last month for that Seattle win.
That running game and the Seahawks’ defense staying patiently in their assigned gaps against Peterson, as it did so decisively last month, will likely be the determining factors in this game. The temperatures Sunday are forecast to be near zero for the kickoff, with a wind chill factor of near 10 below.
That could make this the coldest Vikings home game since 1972, at old Metropolitan Stadium. Only nine NFL games have ever been played when the temperature didn’t get above zero during the contest.
The cold will likely turn footballs into rocks. Harder to throw, catch and kick – but not to run with.
Historic cold? Just another (ice) chip to put on the shoulders of a Seahawks team already set on doing what record books say probably can’t be done.
“It’s going to be a great challenge, but I think we are poised for this situation,” Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett said. “We are a team that’s got a lot of older guys. I think our team is ready.
“We’ve already been through it (to the Super Bowl) one way. Why not try another way?”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
From wild card
Six NFL teams have won the Super Bowl after entering the playoffs as a wild card:
1980: Oakland Raiders
1997: Denver Broncos
2000: Baltimore Ravens
2005: Pittsburgh Steelers
2007: New York Giants
2010: Green Bay Packers
Two of those teams were No. 6 seeds, like Seattle this season:
2005: Pittsburgh beat Seattle, 21-10
2010: Green Bay beat Pittsburgh, 31-25