Get hot at the right time and anything can happen: It’s the de facto calling card of the NFL Playoffs. A one-game format makes sure of it. It’s how Baltimore, despite being the AFC’s fourth seed in 2012, rattled off four straight playoff wins en route to the second Super Bowl in franchise history. To be sure, that Ravens squad was a division winner, albeit at 10-6.
(For our full NFL Playoff coverage, check out The Schultz Report.)
As for wild card teams, a concept introduced in 1978, six have won the Super Bowl. And this year, the sixth-seeded Seattle Seahawks hope to be the seventh.
Despite playing at NFC North champ Minnesota on Sunday, Seattle -- which won eight of its last 10 -- enters as a near-touchdown favorite. And with all due respect to the upstart Vikings, it’s for good reason.
Just five weeks ago, Seattle trounced Mike Zimmer’s club 38-7 on the road. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson -- as I recently chronicled -- is playing some of the best football this league has ever seen. His recent five-game stretch of 16 total touchdowns, zero picks and a near perfect passer rating is unprecedented. And he finished the regular season leading the NFL in passer rating.
Wilson’s favorite target during this madness has been veteran wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who has gone from steady possession guy to potential All-Pro. The 27-year-old Baldwin, undrafted out of Stanford four years ago, is tied for the NFL lead with 14 touchdown catches. He is flanked on the perimeter by the versatile rookie Tyler Lockett, a diminutive dart who earned Pro Bowl honors as a return specialist. Lockett set a franchise rookie record for most all-purpose yards at 1,915 (852 on kickoff returns, 664 receiving, 379 on punt returns and 20 on rushes from scrimmage) to go along with eight total touchdowns.
Seattle’s vaunted aerial attack will get another boost come Sunday when perennial Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch returns from a lingering core muscle injury. The 29-year-old Lynch had been deftly replaced by rookie free agent Thomas Rawls, whose remarkable 5.6 yards rush average led the NFL. Rawls though, suffered a season-ending fractured ankle in Week 14.
Lynch's tremendous running ability is an asset, but his return will undoubtedly also open throwing lanes for Wilson, create a healthy screen game and give the quarterback more time in the pocket. (Few running backs are as effective in pass protection as Lynch is.)
Of course, we can’t talk about the 10-6 Seahawks without talking about the secondary -- the Legion of Boom -- and the defense. Clearly, this is not the same dominant unit of two years ago. That was an all-time defense that completely shut down a healthy Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl, along with pretty much everyone else in 2013.
And yet, to the point of peaking at the right time, a league-leading five Pro Bowlers on defense have helped propel Seattle's "D" back into elite status. In its last five games, Seattle has forced a litany of turnovers while surrendering just eight points per game. And, in easily its best performance of the season, the defense held red hot MVP candidate Carson Palmer to 129 yards passing with a pick in an impressive 36-6 victory at division winner Arizona.
For the season, the Seahawks defense ranked first in points allowed and second in yards allowed per play. That very well may help this team reach a third consecutive Super Bowl, in turn becoming the first organization to accomplish such a feat in the salary cap era.
And, while it's true the Hawks have used their home-field advantage to capture back-to-back NFC titles, Seattle's three losses at home this year were the most during the Wilson era. Moreover, over the previous 10 years of playoff football, home teams have compiled a 23-17 record. In other words, don't write off the 12s just yet.