BY Steve Rudman 02:41PM 12/05/2013

Upon further review: Value of the No. 1 seed

Since the advent of the current playoff format, a No. 1 seed has reached the Super Bowl 21 times, winning nine. The Seahawks are currently the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Earl Thomas and the Seahawks (11-1) take on the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at Candlestick Park, the first of consecutive road games for Seattle. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Pete Carroll stressed in his presser Wednesday about the need for the Seahawks to complete the final quarter of the season with a flourish. A franchise-best 11-1, Seattle plays at 8-4 San Francisco Sunday afternoon with the Seahawks aiming to wrap up the NFC West title, which they can do with a victory, and maintain their status as the No. 1 seed in the conference, which carries with it home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Seahawks have won 14 in a row at CenturyLink Field, all with Russell Wilson at quarterback, by an average of 18.6 points. Their biggest win by scoring margin during the streak – 58-0 — came Dec. 9, 2012 against Arizona, their narrowest a one-point (24-23) decision over New England Oct. 14, 2012. This season, the Seahawks are 6-0 at home.

“We know this is the start of the finish line, and that it’s going to spell whether we take advantage of the great start we’ve had this year,” Carroll said. “With the players, I’m making a big deal about the fact that it’s the fourth quarter of the season. We want to finish right and do well with it. The December opportunity is right at hand and this is something we can take great pride in if we get through this successfully. It’s a big deal for us. We don’t want to peak too early.”

As the reigning No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Seahawks defeated three of the conference’s six current seeds, No. 2 New Orleans 34-7 Monday, No. 5 Carolina 12-7 in Charlotte in Week 1, and No. 6 San Francisco 29-3 at CenturyLink in Week 2.

The importance of owning the No. 1 seed is reflected in the fact that, since 1990, when the NFL adopted its current playoff format, among the 46 No. 1 seeds, 21 have reached the Super Bowl, winning nine. The numbers drop dramatically from there. A No. 2 seed has reached the Super Bowl 13 times and the No. 3 seed twice.

No. 4 seeds have actually fared better than No. 3 seeds. No. 4s have reached the Super Bowl seven times since 1990 with four winners, including the last two. Last year, the fourth-seeded Baltimore Ravens upended No. 2 San Francisco. In 2011, the No. 4 New York Giants knocked off No. 1 New England. These are the playoff results based on seed from 1990 through 2012:

Seed L WC L Div. L CC L SB W SB Last Seed To Win Super Bowl
1 0 14 11 12 9 #1 Saints def. #1 Colts, 2009
2 0 11 22 7 6 #2 Steelers def. #4 Cardinals, 2008
3 16 23 5 1 1 #3 Colts def. #1 Bears, 2006
4 15 23 1 3 4 #4 Ravens def. #2 49ers, 2012
5 31 10 4 0 1 #5 Giants def. #1 Patriots, 2007
6 30 11 3 0 2 #6 Packers def. #2 Steelers, 2010

While 21 No. 1 seeds since 1990 have reached the Super Bowl, the caveat is that only two No. 1s in the past decade have won the game, New Orleans in 2009 (over No. 1 Indianapolis) and New England in 2003 (over No. 3 Carolina), thus Carroll’s hope that his team maintains momentum.

“There are all kinds of storylines of teams that get off to great starts and then they struggle, or then they struggle and then they get going. That happens every season. We’re trying not to be one of those teams,” Carroll said. “We’re trying to be a team that continues to play like you’re capable week after week after week.

“There’s a lot that goes into that. It often happens in our league that teams struggle after injuries. As soon as the quarterback gets hurt, the backup comes in and the team doesn’t play as well. There are all kinds of ways that these seasons turn, and fortunately we’re not part of that storyline right now.”

Carroll has experience with seasons going south. In 1999, when he coached New England, the Patriots started off 6-2 but dropped six of their final eight to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs. The Patriots fired Carroll despite a three-year record of 27-21 and two playoff appearances.

While the Seahawks aren’t likely to head south, especially with two more games at home, in-season collapses, as Carroll suggested, are common in the NFL. As recently as last season, the Arizona Cardinals started 4-0 and finished 5-11. In 2008, Tampa Bay had a peak record of 9-3 under Jon Gruden, lost four straight and finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs. The 1993 Miami Dolphins, coached by Don Shula, started out 9-2, lost five in a row to finish 9-7 and missed the postseason.

One of the worst in-season fades occurred in 1987, when a strike reduced the schedule to 15 games. That year, the Dan Fouts/Kellen Winslow/Wes Chandler/Lionel James San Diego Chargers opened at 8-1, lost six in a row and finished 8-7. Fouts and Winslow retired after the season, among the lousiest athletic exits since Mets catcher Joe Pignatano ended his major league career Sept. 30, 1962 by banging into a triple play.

“We have to maintain the mentality that we’re practicing for championship games,” Carroll said. “The whole purpose of talking that way is for opportunities like the one we face.”


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