Reporting David Elfin
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. There are 15 other teams in the NFC, but somehow Washington is about to face Seattle for the third straight playoff game over an eight-season span.
As a history major who hasn’t taken a math class since early in the Carter Administration, I’m not about to try to figure the odds of that happening.
I do know that the first Redskins-Seahawks playoff game was so long ago that 106.7 The Fan afternoon host LaVar Arrington made the key play for Washington, sidelining Seattle’s Shaun Alexander with a jarring tackle that injured the NFL MVP’s knee. Receiver Santana Moss and tight end Chris Cooley, two of Washington’s young weapons that season, are now the only remaining players from that team and thus the only ones who have been part of a Redskins playoff victory since the burgundy and gold had triumphed the previous week at Tampa Bay.
Outside linebacker Leroy Hill, then a Seattle rookie, and cornerback Marcus Trufant, now a backup, are the only remaining 2005 Seahawks.
The coaching staffs, save Redskins special teams coordinator Danny Smith, have also been totally changed since the Seahawks derailed Washington’s amazing late-season run behind backup quarterback Todd Collins in the first round of the 2007 playoffs.
I also know that as much as the Redskins have struggled at home – only four winning records during the past 11 years – they’re thrilled to avoid the long trip to Seattle where the Seahawks just finished their third perfect home season of the past decade and where Washington’s last two playoff years ended in defeat.
Seattle was just 3-5 on the road despite winning its last two as part of a 5-0 finishing kick, and is 0-8 away from home in postseason dating to 1983 when Washington coach Mike Shanahan was still a college assistant. The Redskins, 5-0 in home playoff games over the last 26 seasons, were 4-0 in Landover during their remarkable seven-game renaissance from NFC East basement to the top of the division.
The teams are similar in that they’re led by dual-threat quarterbacks, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who posted the highest passer ratings of any rookies in NFL history. Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris and Seahawks veteran Marshawn Lynch finished 2-3 in rushing. In a pass-happy era, neither old-school team had anyone with more than 50 catches or 748 receiving yards.
Each team forced 31 turnovers and has a glaring weakness: Seattle doesn’t do much through the air and Washington has serious trouble against the pass. That points to a Redskins victory.
However, there’s something to be said for the experience that comes from having won together in the playoffs. Eleven Seahawks, including nine starters led by Lynch, were part of then-new coach Pete Carroll’s team that stunned defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the wild card round in 2010. Eleven assistants remain, too.
In contrast, only seven Redskins have even played in postseason for Washington and only Cooley and Moss, now backups, have played in a Redskins playoff victory. Smith’s the only coach still on hand.
Both teams have reliable young kickers and older less reliable punters. The Redskins and Seahawks are both good at covering kicks. Leon Washington gives Seattle an advantage on kickoff returns if Kai Forbath doesn’t boot the ball deep into the end zone.
The Seahawks also allowed a league-low 245 points while racking up 108 in consecutive December blowouts of Arizona and Buffalo. The Redskins surrendered 388 points and never scored as many as 70 in consecutive games although they totaled 24 more for the season.
The outgoing Carroll, still-boyish at 61, is just 60-57 during seven seasons with the New York Jets, New England and Seattle, just 2-3 in postseason, but one of those two victories was the upset of the Saints just two years ago. And he won a national title at USC in 2004.
The uptight Shanahan, 60, is 175-130 during 19 years with the Los Angeles Raiders, Denver and Washington, 8-5 in postseason, including two Super Bowl triumphs. However, only one of those eight victories came in the 14 years since that last championship.
Cincinnati vs. a sinking Houston team on Saturday afternoon doesn’t do much for me. Green Bay and Minnesota will have a hard time topping their Week 17 classic and Lambeau Field has lost its intimidating status since the Packers are a shocking 2-4 there during the past 10 postseasons. Faltering Baltimore vs. rising Indianapolis has some appeal, but Seahawks-Redskins is the game of the weekend which makes picking a winner very difficult.
Seattle’s the better team, but Washington’s hotter. I’ve been wrong picking most Redskins games this year, so don’t bet on my hunch, but something tells me that their magical ride won’t end Sunday at home.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin