Less than four years after they played for the right to go to the Super Bowl, the Seahawks and Packers are meeting again in Seattle needing a win to keep realistic hope alive of making the playoffs.
True, the stakes Thursday aren’t as high as the last time the Green Bay Packers visited Seattle, on Jan. 18, 2015.
Then, 46 months and what feels like a few football lifetimes ago, the Seahawks and Packers played in the NFC Championship game with a berth in the Super Bowl on the line.
You may remember what happened — simply put, one of the most inexplicable comebacks ever (the NFL Network earlier this year rated it No. 2 on its list of the top 10 playoff finishes in league history), Seattle prevailing 28-22 in overtime to advance to a second straight Super Bowl. (You remember what happened there, too, whether you want to or not).
But what the two teams are playing for Thursday — staying within realistic reach of a playoff berth — could have pretty significant ramifications of its own.
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Both teams are already in pretty dire straits — the Seahawks are 4-5 and given a 29 percent chance to make the playoffs by the popular prediction web site 538.com, and the Packers are 4-4-1 and 23 percent.
The loser Thursday won’t be mathematically eliminated just yet, but the odds it’ll be left to clinging to will be about as long as those of Draymond Green and Kevin Durant singing a duet of “We Are the World’’ anytime soon.
And then will begin a journey into some uncharted territory — neither the Seahawks under Pete Carroll (he became coach in 2010) nor the Packers under Mike McCarthy (he took over in 2006) have missed the playoffs two years in a row.
McCarthy’s name has already begun to pop up on “coaching hot seat’’ lists with some wondering if another playoff-less season might cause the team to make a change, knowing that the clock is also beginning to run out on the prime years of Aaron Rodgers, who turns 35 on Dec. 2.
For all he’s accomplished, Rodgers has advanced to only one Super Bowl, with the loss in Seattle and blowing of a 19-7 fourth-quarter lead to the Seahawks in 2015 a defeat he admits he may never really completely shake.
Recalling that game for reporters in Green Bay this week, Rodgers said: “That one, the sting’s probably never going to go away.”
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have only trended downward since, if rather gradually.
They lost the Super Bowl two weeks later, won one playoff game each of the next two years (with a close loss in the divisional round in 2016 and a blowout in 2017) and then missed the postseason entirely last year, finishing 9-7 (Green Bay was 7-9 last year but at least had the excuse of Rodgers playing only seven games due to injury. Rodgers has been healthy this season, though, with ill-timed poor play, such as three turnovers in a regrettable loss to Detroit, mostly to blame for its lack of a winning record).
Now here the Seahawks are at 4-5, just the second time in the Wilson era that they have had worse than a .500 record this late in the season. True, the close losses to the Rams over the last month show that Seattle remains able to compete with anybody.
But with Carroll now 67 and with just a year left on his contract, Wilson turning 30 in two weeks (Nov. 29) and also with just a year left on his contract, and the ownership situation in doubt following the death last month of Paul Allen, a playoff-less season would only add to the uncertainty that surrounds the longterm future of the franchise.
The other time the Seahawks have had a losing record after the halfway point of the season in the Wilson era was 2015, when they were also 4-5.
That year they then won their next five, spurred by a mid-season tweak to the offense to emphasize a quick passing game that resulted in Wilson throwing 24 TDs and just one interception in the final eight weeks, to finish 10-6 and grab a wildcard spot.
Carroll clung to that example this week when asked if he thought the team could still make the playoffs, saying he didn’t just think it, “I know it,’’ citing the team’s ability to consistently run as proof that the Seahawks have what it takes to rip off the kind of streak that will be needed.
“What happened in 2015?,’’ he asked. “I think we were right about right here and put on a good little run and I don’t know — I can’t remember in 2015 if we felt as clear about our way of doing it as we do now. It gives us a great opportunity, but we have to go. We have to take these one week at a time and start piling up some wins.’’
That Carroll sensed the urgency of this game, though, seemed evident in how he addressed his team and media following Sunday’s 36-31 loss to the Rams. Knowing there was no time to stew in that defeat he talked almost solely of the positives in the way the team played and of the hope that remains.
Here’s another stat to cling to — Sunday’s loss was the only the seventh time in Wilson’s Seattle tenure the Seahawks have lost two in a row. Seattle has never lost three in a row with Wilson at QB, and of the six times it won after losing two in a row, it usually did so emphatically, with five of the wins coming by nine points or more and the other by four.
Carroll also has talked repeatedly of Seattle now having five of its final seven games at CenturyLink.
“A lot of opportunities at home and I think we should have nothing but the thoughts that we should build on where we are right now and have a chance to keep going and get better,’’ he said.
All those remaining home games, though, may only matter if Seattle gets the first one Thursday night.