After changing their expectations, Seahawks now have must-win stakes

The Seahawks are currently not in the playoffs. That wouldn’t have been a surprising sentence to write three months ago, let alone three weeks into the season, but it is an abrupt change from the situation that Seattle found itself in after a four-game win streak put them atop the NFC West.

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The expectation in the preseason was not that of a playoff contender, but circumstances change expectations, winning changes perceptions, and a preconceived notion morphs into something differently entirely. Yes, after nine weeks and with a division lead, there was enough of a sample size to expect this team to make the playoffs. It would be, simply put, a disappointing season if the Seahawks don’t make the playoffs.

That is the situation after 11 games, though. The Seahawks have dropped two straight and have fallen from division leader to the first team out of the playoffs. This is not where the losses were supposed to happen, not to a Bucs team that couldn’t run the ball, and certainly not to a Raiders team that had lost six games decided by a touchdown or less and had a knack for being unable to close out games this year.

The remaining Seahawks schedule is still ideal, with two games left against a three-win Rams team and one at home versus the rotating carousel of Carolina quarterbacks, but Seattle no longer has the luxury of giving any more games away. It’s a necessity to win those three – and likely one or two more – in order to put an appropriate finish onto the strong middle of the season.

To be clear, the Seahawks have already had a successful season, make no mistake about that. They are in position to receive a top 5 overall pick in the NFL Draft (and two in the top 35) from the Broncos, which will only expedite Seattle’s path back to a Super Bowl contender, especially if the 2023 rookie class comes close to matching the production of the stellar crop of rookies from this draft class. Yet, it’s because of that quick acclimation to the NFL that the Seahawks have real weight attached to this season and why it would feel jarring to have this current stretch end abruptly after 17 games.

The Seahawks also look like the team from the first few weeks of the season, which is a disappointing regression after there were definitive signs of progress and improvement for an extended period of time. A solid run defense, pressure on the quarterback, and the ability to get off the field enabled the Seahawks to surge past a slow start, but the past two games have seen opponents fillet the Seahawks on the ground and run the ball at will. A learning curve was to be expected on that side of the ball early in the season, but after the standard was established, much like the expectation for the playoffs changing to reflect the new reality, a regression to the early-season form for the defense is a disappointment.

These are must-win games, and there are a number of unknowns that still remain with this Seahawks team. They are young and heavily reliant on rookies at key positions. Those players are entering uncharted territory in terms of workload for a season, and we don’t know how the bodies will hold up. No team is overlooking the Seahawks now either, nor taking them lightly. That is a credit to what they have accomplished so far, but it also means they have to match the intensity of teams like the Raiders, Panthers and Rams playing the spoiler role. There is also plenty of tape out there now on Geno Smith, his tendencies, where you bring pressure to negate his preferred first option, and everything else that will require Smith, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron and the offense to adjust when the preferred option is taken away.

The Seahawks are in an enviable situation: playing meaningful games down the stretch. But with it comes the weight of expectations, the pressure that builds as each game takes on greater importance. The path to a successful season remains in play, there is just no longer any margin of error.

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After changing their expectations, Seahawks now have must-win stakes