This Super Bowl matchup is near and dear to the Seahawks’ aching hearts: The division rival the Hawks cannot beat right now vs. the one-time Super Bowl nemesis the Hawks will always regret not beating.
The Rams and Patriots are the teams the Hawks have to figure out how to defeat if they are going to win another Super Bowl under Pete Carroll.
So how do they do that?
John Clayton presented some lessons the rest of the NFL can learn from the Rams and Patriots: (1) Be willing to trade for key vets, (2) put together a good offensive line, (3) field a high-scoring offense, (4) be aggressive on fourth down, (5) be strong running the ball.
The Seahawks have done all of those things. The trade for Duane Brown and addition of Mike Solari covered the first two on that list, and the Hawks were tied for sixth in scoring this season, were the No. 4 team in fourth-down conversion success (78.6 percent) and, of course, led the NFL in rushing.
It all was enough to get the Hawks to the postseason, but they were missing what they needed to win any games once they got there — and once again fell too far short of a coveted Super rematch with the Patriots.
It’s not like the Patriots haven’t given the Seahawks every chance to meet them there again. They are now on their third straight Super Bowl in the four seasons since the Seahawks handed them XLIX.
Carroll has always said he wants to “do it better than it’s ever been done,” but Bill Belichick obviously has the trademark on that one — now heading to his ninth Super Bowl in 18 years with Tom Brady (that’s one every other year!). The best Carroll could possibly hope for is to “do it better than it’s ever been done by anyone but Belichick.” That’s basically how it has been this decade.
Since 2012, when Carroll found his own franchise quarterback in Russell Wilson, Seattle is second only to the Patriots in wins (including postseason). But the gap is big — 99 to 83 — and the Patriots have five more postseason wins (13 to 8).
The Patriots have built their margin ever since that XLIX meeting, winning 58 games to Seattle’s 41 (fourth in the NFL) as the Patriots have stayed atop the AFC and the Seahawks have dropped back to the NFC pack (tied with Minnesota and Carolina in wins). The Patriots have won eight postseason games in that time, the Hawks just two.
As we wrote before their XLIX matchup, Belichick and Carroll are very similar in many ways (aside from personality). So why has Belichick been able to sustain dominance in a way Carroll has not? Where does Belichick succeed where Carroll fails?
It starts at home.
Since 2015, New England is 33-5 at home, including 6-0 in the postseason. Seattle is just 23-10 (1-0 in the playoffs).
The Patriots have had a first-round bye in each of those years, thus have needed to win just two playoff games to reach the Super Bowl. They fell short when they had to play the AFC title game in Denver in 2015, but they held home field in 2016 and 2017 and advanced to the Super Bowl both times.
The Rams and Patriots both won on the road in this year’s conference title games, but it took overtime for both — showing just how hard it is to beat great teams in their places at this point in the season. The Hawks know better than anyone: They have had to travel in the playoffs four times since 2015, and they have lost three (and won the other, in Minnesota, on pure luck).
It’s pretty obvious the Hawks have to get back home, with a bye, for the playoffs. That means they need to win 12 or 13 games, which means seven or eight at home and five or six on the road.
The Seahawks fell far short in 2015, going just 5-3 at home and losing the NFC West to Arizona by three games. Kam Chancellor’s holdout messed up the secondary, which cost home games against Carolina and Arizona plus the opener in St. Louis.
In 2016, the Hawks went 7-1 at home and won the division even though Wilson played the entire season with serious injuries. The Hawks were just the third seed, half a game behind the Falcons, who blew out Seattle in Atlanta in the divisional round.
The Hawks missed the playoffs in 2017 largely because they went just 4-4 at home — with bad losses to Washington and Arizona that could have been avoided with a better kicker. An 11-5 record would have gotten them into the playoffs, although they still would have been a wild card because the Rams were better.
This season, the Hawks went 6-2 at home. But the Rams swept them and won the division at 13-3, and Seattle again went on the road for the playoffs.
As they stand now, the Hawks look good for at least six home wins (ARI, SF, TB, BAL, CIN, MIN) and four road wins (ARI, CAR, CLE, PIT) in 2019. To have a shot at home field, they need to add three wins from the other games — the Rams (home and away), home vs. NO, at SF, at ATL or at PHI.
To get a bye and potentially home field, Seattle is going to have to beat L.A. at least once. To do that, Carroll and John Schneider will have to beef up the defensive line this offseason — just like they did in their championship year of 2013, when they signed Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Tony McDaniel.
If they can improve their pass rush and run defense and get some better strategy from Brian Schottenheimer, they might have a good shot at beating the Rams, winning 13 games for home field and — maybe, finally — getting even with the Patriots.