RENTON — In only Week 2 of the NFL season, the Seahawks might be facing the most desperate opponent they will all season.
That might seem like hyperbole.
But the foe for Sunday’s regular-season home opener, the Tennessee Titans, won 11 games last season to take the AFC South before losing a home playoff game to the Baltimore Ravens. They then spent big in free agency to take the next step.
The Titans, in fact, doled out $160 million, seventh most in the NFL — and that doesn’t include trading for receiver Julio Jones and the remaining three years of his contract.
The point of it all was to win now, which Tennessee decidedly did not do last Sunday.
In what was one of the more eye-opening games of the NFL’s opening weekend, the Titans were blasted at home by Arizona, 38-13, turning in a mistake-filled and sluggish performance as bad as the score looked.
And any team that starts 0-1 spends the following week staring at what are the historically long playoff odds of teams that begin 0-2.
Of 118 teams since 2007 that started 0-2, only 12 have made the playoffs, including the 2018 Seahawks.
All 11 teams that started 0-2 last year missed the postseason despite the addition of an extra playoff team in each conference.
Tennessee is fortunate to be in a division featuring Houston, Jacksonville and Indianapolis that looks rough so far, meaning if there’s a team that could start 0-2 and still win a division, it might be the Titans this year.
Still, in a win-now season, this stands as a must-win game for Tennessee.
Or, as Seattle coach Pete Carroll put it this week: “All of the buildup and the high-profile guys (Tennessee has), this is a really exciting matchup for us.”
The Seahawks, of course, also are in win-now mode.
And Seattle did just that last Sunday, standing in stark contrast to the Titans by going into Indianapolis and beating the Colts with surprising ease, 28-16.
Seattle’s offseason was in some contrast to the Titans’, despite each team appearing in basically the same state as a franchise.
Each has a highly paid franchise quarterback who turned, or turns, 33 years old this year who was taken in the 2012 draft — Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill taken eighth overall and Seattle’s Russell Wilson 75th.
But while there was conjecture that the Seahawks might restructure Wilson’s contract to free up cap space for this year and push it back to future seasons, the Seahawks resisted. One reason was to keep as much cap flexibility for 2022 and beyond and not sell out totally on winning this season at the expense of future years.
Tennessee, though, took the opposite tack, restructuring Tannehill’s deal to guarantee all $29 million of his salary in 2022 — Wilson, in contrast, has no guaranteed money beyond this season.
That allowed the Titans to take on Jones’ salary and sign the likes of free agent end Bud Dupree. And when the splurge was over, Tennessee had eight players who have cap hits of $10 million or more in 2022. Seattle has just three — Wilson, Tyler Lockett and Bobby Wagner — after spending just $60 million in free agency this year, less than all but eight teams.
And without getting too deep into the numbers, it basically means if this year doesn’t go well for the Titans, they’ll either have to do some major shedding of big-name players to renovate their salary structure to start over, or hang on to a bunch of highly paid aging vets and hope it goes better — a situation the Seahawks have generally tried to avoid, and a philosophy they would undoubtedly credit for why they have made the playoffs nine times in 11 seasons since 2010.
Which brings us back to Sunday’s game when the key player for Tennessee might not be Tannehill but running back Derrick Henry.
The 27-year-old rushed for 2,027 yards last season but did so on 378 carries. Football Outsiders has detailed what it calls “The Curse of 370 since 2000,” noting that most running backs who get that many carries in a season see their careers decline quickly within a year or two, including former Seahawk Shaun Alexander, who set a Seattle record with 370 carries in 2005 and was out of the NFL by 2009 never again coming close to the same heights of his MVP season.
Anyone wanting to panic about Henry got ammo last week when he was held to 58 yards on 17 carries. But it’d be risky to read much into that given the complete breakdown that was Tennessee’s offense against Arizona.
“It was a hard day for Tennessee to get going,” Carroll said. “That’s not the way they want to play, they were down 17-0 in the first quarter. You have to give a lot of credit to the Cardinals, they looked terrific.”
So did the Seahawks as their new Shane Waldron-coordinated offense helped lift Wilson to four touchdown passes. The defense so dominated the Colts early that the Seahawks were able to largely sit in four-man fronts as the game wore on and still pressure Carson Wentz all over the place, finishing with 10 quarterback hits from seven different players.
The Seahawks will hope to put the same kind of pressure on a Tennessee team already feeling a lot of it.