Things were looking pretty grim for the Seattle Seahawks six weeks ago.
Seattle was 2-4 with the second-worst fourth-quarter point differential in the NFL after blowing four fourth-quarter leads. The Seahawks' playoff chances, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, were at a season-low 23 percent entering Week 7, when they were tied with the San Francisco 49ers at the bottom of the NFC West.
Since then, the Seahawks have rattled off wins in four of their last five games and seem to have found a home back in the top 10 in ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings. Their chances of making the playoffs are up to 63 percent -- their highest percentage since Week 1.
But making the playoffs isn’t enough for a Seattle team that has appeared in back-to-back Super Bowls. Fortunately for the franchise, a 6-5 start can precede a Super Bowl title, as three teams in NFL history have proved.
1988 San Francisco 49ers
Unlike this year’s Seahawks, the 1988 49ers started 4-1 before dropping four of their next six games. Their season turned around in Week 12 on Monday Night Football against the defending Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. Quarterback Joe Montana returned that game after missing the previous two (both losses in games started by Steve Young), and the 49ers won 37-21.
They closed the season with wins in three of their next four games and went on to win Super Bowl XXIII. That game was highlighted by Montana’s game-winning touchdown pass to John Taylor with barely 30 seconds to go, concluding an 11-play, 92-yard drive.
2001 New England Patriots
The 2001 Patriots dealt with quarterback changes of their own. Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of their Week 2 game against the New York Jets after taking a hit from Mo Lewis in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady finished that game and has started 218 of New England’s 233 games since.
Brady and the Patriots closed the 2001 season with wins in 11 of their final 14 games, including eight in a row after their 6-5 start. The playoffs were highlighted by the “Tuck Rule” game in the snow against the Oakland Raiders and Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal with no time remaining in Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams.
2011 New York Giants
The 2011 Giants started 6-5 but didn’t hit their low point until Week 15, when they fell to 7-7 after a 23-10 loss to the Redskins. Eli Manning threw three interceptions and finished that game with a Total QBR of 5.7.
Manning threw 13 touchdowns and two interceptions over his next six games. The Giants upset the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, highlighted by Manning’s perfect pass to Mario Manningham 38 yards down the left sideline to start the game-winning drive.
The road ahead
This year’s Seahawks have big shoes to fill if they want to become the fourth team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl after a 6-5 start.
Their path to a potential third straight Super Bowl appearance starts with road games against the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens. The Vikings are the FPI favorites in Week 13 by the slimmest of margins, and the Seahawks have a 55 percent chance to win in Week 14 against the Ravens.
FPI puts Seattle’s chances of returning to the Super Bowl at 4.4 percent, fifth-highest among NFC teams. Its 2.2 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl ranks eighth in the NFL entering Week 13.
Since quarterback Russell Wilson was drafted in 2012, the Seahawks are 4-0 at home in the playoffs and 2-2 on the road or at neutral sites. FPI gives the Seahawks the fifth or sixth playoff seed in 97 of the projections where it has Seattle making the postseason, meaning this run would most likely have to happen on the road.