clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Seahawks must re-establish divisional competence before returning to prominence

The Seahawks have not shown themselves to be demonstrably better in division games against any of their NFC West rivals. Not even the Cardinals.

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

One of the prevalent themes of the back-end of the Pete Carroll era was the Seattle Seahawks’ significant dropoff within the NFC West. The arrivals of Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay have resulted in Seattle winning just one division title, while the 49ers and Rams have each made the Super Bowl twice (with the Rams winning once).

For the Seahawks to be serious playoff contenders again under new head coach Mike Macdonald, one of the first steps is not just win the NFC West in itself, but not look as consistently outmatched as they’ve been for years within the division.

These stats will illustrate how adrift the Seahawks have been against their rivals, such that they’ve been a lot closer to the mostly dysfunctional and inept Arizona Cardinals than either the 49ers or Rams. All of the stats are specifically in-division matchups and include playoff games.

Divisional Records (2017-2023)

Los Angeles Rams: 28-17
San Francisco 49ers: 24-20
Seattle Seahawks: 23-21
Arizona Cardinals: 13-30

Point Differential

Los Angeles Rams: +238
San Francisco 49ers: +131
Seattle Seahawks: -54
Arizona Cardinals: -315

Margin of Victory

Los Angeles Rams: 401 (average per win: 14.3 pts)
San Francisco 49ers: 304 (average per win: 10.9 pts)
Seattle Seahawks: 171 (average per win: 6.1 pts)
Arizona Cardinals: 107 (average per win: 8.2 pts)

Margin of Defeat

Los Angeles Rams: 163 (average per loss: 9.6 pts)
San Francisco 49ers: 173 (average per loss: 8.6 pts)
Seattle Seahawks: 225 (average per loss: 10.7 pts)
Arizona Cardinals: 422 (average per loss: 14.1 pts)

Division Wins | Losses by 10+ Points

Los Angeles Rams: 17 wins out of 28 | 8 losses out of 17
San Francisco 49ers: 14 wins out of 24 | 8 losses out of 20
Seattle Seahawks: 8 wins out of 23 | 11 losses out of 21
Arizona Cardinals: 7 wins out of 13 | 19 losses out of 30

Unlike the Rams, who had immediate success with McVay, the 49ers were 2-10 in their first 12 divisional games under Kyle Shanahan, and have since gone 22-10.

Only about one-third of Seattle’s division wins were by double digits, while roughly half of their losses were by double digits. They’ve had negative point differentials in NFC West games in five of their last seven seasons. The Seahawks are 10-4 against the Cardinals with a point differential of only +46, which is incredible when you consider Arizona has been a sub-.400 team. For context, the Rams are 13-2 versus the Cardinals in the same span with a point differential of +211.

Are divisional games theoretically tougher than non-divisional games? Sure. But the Super Bowl contending Seahawks put up 58-0, 42-13, 36-6, 35-6, 29-3, 24-3, 27-9, and 37-18 beatdowns against their NFC West foes whether they were lousy (2012 Cardinals) or championship caliber (2013 49ers, 2015 Cardinals). The odd clunker (see: 2014 Rams road game) could be forgiven when they were also winning their divisional matchups in thumping fashion.

The Seahawks of more recent times have made the clunker the standard. They’ve dropped games to the C.J. Beathard-led 49ers and Cardinals teams that have played Drew Stanton, Colt McCoy, and (for part of a game) Brett Hundley at quarterback. A last minute comeback was required to beat a Rams team starting John Wolford and missing Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp. Similar comebacks were needed to beat Beathard and Brian Hoyer-led 49ers squads that finished a combined 12-20. Twice the 49ers came into Lumen Field (in 2019 and 2022) and clinched the NFC West title on Seattle’s home turf. Seattle led for 0 minutes of either game. The 2017 Rams gave the Seahawks their worst ever loss at Lumen Field with the division effectively at stake. And, of course, both the Niners and Rams have knocked Seattle out of the playoffs in lopsided fashion.

What’s changed?

Take a look at these two tables:

Seahawks division vs. non-division splits: 2010-2016

Opponents Points Per Game (2010-2016) Points Allowed Per Game (2010-2016)
Opponents Points Per Game (2010-2016) Points Allowed Per Game (2010-2016)
All opponents 24.4 18.4
NFC West 21.9 14.3
Non-NFC West 25.8 20.9

Seahawks division vs. non-division splits: 2017-2023

Opponents Points Scored Per Game (2017-2023) Points Allowed Per Game (2017-2023)
Opponents Points Scored Per Game (2017-2023) Points Allowed Per Game (2017-2023)
All opponents 23.8 22.9
NFC West 22.9 23.2
Non-NFC West 24.3 22.8

While the Seahawks of old did have their points per game lowered in division games, they completely dominated their NFC West foes on defense. The final years of the Carroll era provided the worst of both worlds, and their average point differential is superior outside the division than within. Not ideal when roughly 35% of your schedule is against the same three teams.

I’m not saying the Seahawks are in “NFC West or bust” mode for 2024, but I am arguing that this is one of the many justified reasons to move on from Pete and start anew with Coach Macdonald. Once they lost their grip on the 49ers rivalry, it was the point of no return. We’ll know whether or not Seattle is on the right track back to contention when these division games don’t oscillate between needlessly close against inferior opposition to wildly non-competitive against Super Bowl contenders.