RENTON, Wash. — Defensive in 2010 because they were being degraded, Seahawks fans can gloat this season.
Seattle is a win from capturing what is arguably the NFL’s best division three seasons after it last took the NFC West crown as the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record.
The 2010-11 division title is marked with the same generic signage at CenturyLink Field as the others. There is no asterisk for the 7-9 team that claimed the division in Pete Carroll’s first year. No framed headlines from the satirical publication The Onion that season which ran a story titled “Seahawks just three losses from Super Bowl.”
A large shift in the division has happened since the Seahawks toted what many called the worst team in playoff history into the postseason.
This season, the St. Louis Rams have a chance to go 8-8 and finish last in the division. The Arizona Cardinals could finish 11-5 and miss the playoffs. The Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are widely considered the NFC’s two best teams.
When the Seahawks were 7-9 and given the right to host a wild card game as a division champion, grumbling about the NFL playoff system followed. It can be applied again this season.
If the playoffs started today, the two NFC wild-card teams — San Francisco (10-4) and Carolina (10-4) — would have better records than the NFC North and East champs. Yet, they would be packing their bags.
Philadelphia (8-6) leads the NFC East. Chicago (8-6) leads the NFC North. Both have outscored their opponents by just 15 points.
“Right now the system is pretty good,” Carroll said. “I kind of like that when you win the division you get it, whether it’s 7-9 or whatever.”
When a division goes as soft as the West did in 2010, perceptions become key. Carroll won the division title in his first season in Seattle. In Miami that year, Tony Sparano was in his third season, finished 7-9, missed the playoffs and was fighting for his job.
Sparano was fired after week 14 the following season.
The Seahawks received some validation when they beat the defending world champion New Orleans Saints, 41-36, behind four Matt Hasselbeck touchdown passes and Marshawn Lynch’s “Beastquake” run.
“It didn’t matter what I said to them, or what was said outside, and all of the story lines and all that, they just did not buy it,” Carroll said at the time.
The poor records in the division below the Seahawks that year helped make Carroll the division’s longest tenured coach. All three other coaches from 2010 — Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis, Mike Singletary in San Francisco and Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona — are gone.
Carroll won’t have to make a defense of his team or division this year. The West is stocked with some of the best defenses in the league. The four teams allow just an average 18.7 points per game. They are first, third, seventh and 21st in total defense.
NFC West teams have the most victories (37) of any division in the league. The top-heavy AFC West is second with 33 wins thanks to 11 each for Denver and Kansas City.
“It’s come a tremendous distance to have to put up with kind of the yucks about being 7-9 and winning the division years ago and you know, who’s laughing ?” Carroll said.
Right guard J.R. Sweezy (concussion) has been ruled out of the game against the Cardinals. Sweezy suffered the concussion Sunday against the New York Giants. Carroll did not commit to Sweezy’s replacement, but possibilities include Paul McQuistan, Lemuel Jeanpierre or rookie Alvin Bailey. ... Nickel cornerback and special teams demon Jeremy Lane (ankle) practiced Friday and will be ready to play, Carroll said.