The Seahawks are playing Sunday to avoid what would be only the sixth 0-3 start in team history. Just five of 173 teams ever start the season with three straight losses have ever made the playoffs.
All the other questions hovering over the Seahawks — Can they get the running game going? Can Brian Schottenheimer find a way to get the most out of Russell Wilson? — will start to become moot if Seattle doesn’t beat Dallas on Sunday.
“I’m not going to give them no cliché (answer),’’ middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said this week of the importance of Sunday’s game. “You don’t want to be 0-3.’’
No you don’t if you want to make the playoffs and make the season have any real meaning, as NFL history has proved time and again.
Being 0-2 — as the Seahawks are now — is tough enough.
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Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams and implemented its current playoff format in 2002, just 11 percent of teams that started 0-2 have made the playoffs. One of those was the 2015 Seahawks. But already, just nine players remain on the roster from that squad, making it hard to really feel like it’s the same team.
At that point the Seahawks could just about forget it.
According to Oddsshark.com, 173 teams have started a season 0-3 since 1980. Just five have made the playoffs. One of those came in the strike season of 1982 — the Tampa Bay Bucs — when the NFL changed the playoff format and 16 of 28 teams made the postseason.
No team has done it since the 1998 Buffalo Bills, who were forced due to an injury to Rob Johnson to go with Doug Flutie at quarterback at midseason. Flutie led a 7-3 finish that got the Bills into a wild-card game.
Five teams started 0-3 last year and only one managed a winning record — the Chargers, who started 0-4 before finishing 9-7.
The other four finished a combined 16-48 (and yep, with the Browns accounting for 16 of those losses).
Of the 168 teams since 1980 to start 0-3 and not make the playoffs, the 1990 Seahawks came as close as any of them.
That Seahawks squad is one of just five in the team’s 42-year history to start out 0-3.
The other four are the first two seasons of 1976 and 1977 as well as 1996 and 2002 (the infamous 2-14 team of 1992 actually won its third game, against New England, which as longtime hard-core fans know was the worst thing it could have done as that proved the difference in being able to draft either Drew Bledsoe or Rick Mirer the following spring).
The 1990 team rallied to finish 9-7 and needed only a Houston squad playing with a backup quarterback after an injury to Warren Moon to lose on the final day of the season to get into the playoffs. Instead, Cody Carlson led the Oilers to a win and Seattle stayed home.
That Seahawks team had one similarity to this one — early struggles establishing an offensive identity after an offseason of talking about changing it.
That was the first year of the post-Steve Largent era — and also the first without Curt Warner — and coach Chuck Knox decided to implement aspects of the run-and-shoot, at the time the hot new thing, into Seattle’s offense. It proved a disaster with Seattle being shut out at Chicago on opening day 17-0 (sound familiar?). By week three Knox had pretty much scrapped that and gone back to the team’s old offense and the Seahawks went on a tear, winning six of their last eight.
But the damage had been done, proving Wagner right 28 years in advance, that you don’t want to be 0-3.
Seattle has started 0-2 just twice in Pete Carroll’s previous eight seasons — in 2011 and, as noted, 2015 — both teams also starting out with two road games before then winning at home in week three.
The 2011 team, Carroll’s second, rallied to finish 7-9, winning five of its last eight as a young defense that a year later would become the best in the NFL began to take shape.
In 2015, Kam Chancellor ended his holdout after the 0-2 start, making whole what remained the best defense in the NFL — that was the last of four straight Seattle defenses that would lead the league in fewest points allowed — while an offensive shift at midseason to more of a quick passing game led to an 8-2 finish.
But those were in different times — the beginning of the ascent and what was still basically the peak — of the Carroll era.
Seattle is now either retooling — the preferred phrase of the team’s powers-that-be — or rebuilding, the term used by almost everyone else.
A loss Sunday to what so far has looked like a fairly middling Dallas team would make it clear that this is more of a rebuild than a retool.
And if that were to happen, then the questions will shift to what the future holds for Carroll — who has two years left on his contract — and maybe even Wilson, who likewise has two years left on his contract amid a national media report last week that his long-term future with the team remains “uncertain.’’
True, there would be 13 games left to show that the rebuild could maybe still be a quick retool.
But with another road game next week at Arizona — the Cardinals look terrible, but a road game is a road game in the NFL — then a visit by the highflying Rams and then a trip to London to play the Raiders, things could get late really early for Seattle, making Sunday feel as pivotal as any game in recent Seahawks history.
“This is not going to be easy,’’ Wagner said. “I think that’s what the young guys are learning — this game is not easy. Nobody’s just going to roll over and let you win because you have Seahawks in your name.’’
Sunday may prove if these are now just Seahawks in name only.