SportsMonday: The Luckiest Season Ever Goes To The Next Level

Looking back at the immediate aftermath of the Seahawks beating the Saints and setting up a battle with the Bears next weekend, the worst thing was all the broadcast commentary and all the printed stories about how Seattle had showed the sporting world it was wrong to scoff at its playoff credentials.

Shame on those who had ridiculed the Seahawks, it was said and written, for being the first team in a non-strike year to win a division with a losing record and for needing to win the Super Bowl to finish the season with more wins than losses (if they make it that far but lose, they will finish 10-10). They were a division champ after all, just like all the other division champs. They had done what they had to do to win the NFC West and they were just as worthy as any other team in the playoffs.

I wanted to shake those folks and point out that, you know, the Seahawks sucked during the regular season no matter what may have happened after it ended. They sucked worse than any playoff team we've ever seen. And they lucked into a playoff spot by being slightly better than the other teams in a historically bad division.

Now clearly no one saw the win over the Saints coming, but that doesn't change the fact that it was ridiculous they were in the playoffs, especially ahead of much better Tampa Bay Buccaneer and New York Giant teams.

As for the worst thing going forward, well, that will be all the people warning the Bears not to take the Seahawks lightly.

First of all, I don't care if a team is facing the first-ever pro football team fielded by the Little Sisters of the Poor and placed in the postseason because the networks demanded it in the hopes of an all-time upset generating greatest-ever rankings.

If the opposition has anything to do with an NFL team's motivation in a playoff game with a spot in the conference championship on the line, it is time to introduce relegation to football and to demote that team to NCAA Division III next season.

Second, the luckiest season ever just went to the next level. This is the latest chapter in a year that saw the Bear defense feast on three different starting third-string quarterbacks during their 11-5 regular season and also enjoy remarkably good health (virtually no significant injuries - ones that cause absences of more than one game - to contributors other than weak side linebackers). Now they have a chance to play the 8-9 Seahawks in a conference semifinal. Unbelievable.

Yes, Matt Hasselbeck was awesome on Saturday and the Seahawks recorded an impressive, high-scoring win (speaking of historically bad by the way, how about New Orleans' safeties? How many times were you guys going to let receivers with mediocre speed get behind you? 10? A dozen?). And Hasselbeck burned the Bears during a Seattle win at Soldier Field earlier this season.

But it will be very, very different in Chicago next weekend.

For one thing, how did the Saints not manage to hit Hasselbeck more? After what, his second touchdown pass (?), Hasselbeck glanced off a Saints defender, went down like he'd been shot and appeared to have suffered a potentially crippling injury. Now he certainly bounced back well enough the rest of the game but surely the Bears will be able to deliver a little more punishment on the frozen Soldier Field tundra and make it very difficult for Hasselbeck to avoid re-aggravating the hip injury that kept him out of the regular season finale.

Second, Seattle's rookie head coach, Pete Carroll, is the classic rah-rah guy who struggles mightily to get a professional team to perform consistently. All those hugs may work in college but after such an emotional outpouring last week, the Seahawks are as primed as a team could be for a major letdown, especially as they leave the confines of Qwest Field.

Say what you will about Lovie Smith as a coach - and I was certainly advocating his firing after last season - but his even-keel approach limits letdowns (the Bears have had plenty of disappointing performances during his tenure, but Lovie's teams almost never lose to the dregs of the league, even after big wins). Lucky Lovie never gets too high or too low and neither does his team.

Hawk Tawk

My friend the Canucks fan informed me yesterday that his team now has the top point total in all the NHL (they had 60 after Sunday evening's action). I thought about telling him that it doesn't really matter how many points a team has if one of its primary rivals is thoroughly in its head, like say, the Hawks, have entered the head of Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault. But I didn't. Bottom line was, I was a little jealous. The Hawks have been awfully shaky the last month while the Canucks have gone on a tear.

But back to Vigneault - you may recall that he was the coach who complained that the Hawks had run up the score by playing their best players too much during the latter stages off a Hawk blowout over his team a couple months ago. He also whined about the Hawks making too much contact with his precious goaltender, Roberto Luongo, during the playoffs last year.

Just like Kansas City Chiefs coach Todd Haley made a complete fool of himself by crying about the Broncos running up the score against his team late in the NFL regular season, Vigneault may as well have stamped a giant "L" on his forehead with those comments. Until further notice, expect the Hawks to own the Canucks no matter how crafty the Sedin brothers may be. Actually, while brother Daniel is still a solid player, identical twin Henrik is off the charts so far this season. He has totaled 45 assists so far, 10 more than his nearest competitor on the NHL leader board.

But there are plenty of other teams in the Western Conference who appear perfectly capable of knocking off the defending Stanley Cup champs in the spring, if not knocking them off in the winter so many times that they don't even make the playoffs.

The Hawks (23-18-3) went into the weekend out of the projected playoffs but now stand sixth in the Western Conference with 49 points after a couple of very much needed victories. They are 11 points behind the Canucks and 10 in back of the Red Wings. Those guys will be tough to catch, especially considering they have played a few fewer games than the Hawks.

For some reason, the NHL scheduled more games for the Hawks this fall than anyone else. And so it is at this point well into the winter, the Hawks have still played two or more game more than 11 of the 15 teams in the conference. By the time February rolls around, the Hawks will have about the same number of games as just about everyone else.

I also hear they are holding a Super Bowl on the first week of February. If the season keeps going like it is, the Packers will upset Atlanta in the conference semis and thereby give the Bears the chance to host the NFC championship game. If that happens it will be impossible to identify a "worst thing," or even a slightly annoying happenstance.


Comments welcome.

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