Even before the Seahawks knew their opponent for this week, the team was preparing for their divisional playoff game. The bye week provided a chance for the team to self-scout and rest up for the Carolina Panthers. It was a familiar feeling to many players in the locker room who experienced a similar schedule and routine last year. But it's an entirely new experience for a number of Seahawks getting their first taste of the NFL playoffs. In the case of the rookies, the saying "What a difference a year makes," couldn't ring more true.
"This is the first time I've been in the postseason," wide receiver Paul Richardson said following the Seahawks' win on December 28 against St. Louis. In three seasons on the field for the University of Colorado, Richardson experienced a total of 10 wins. That's two fewer wins than the Seahawks racked up in the regular season this year. "It's awesome, man. I'm excited."
Fellow receiver Chris Matthews spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons in the Canadian Football League. This time last year he was trying to catch on in the NFL, working out for teams around the league, and keeping an eye on the Seahawks playoff run.
"Of course you watch it," Matthews said. "People have their fantasy football leagues and I was definitely a part of that last year, doing fantasy football, so I watched it like my life depended on it. It's pretty big, especially to see what [the Seahawks] did last year and how much success they had and how much they prepared for it. And watching them now and practicing and doing the things that they were doing last year, it's amazing."
Rookies Justin Britt and Kevin Norwood were capping their college careers at bowl games a year ago. Both were aware of the NFL playoffs, but neither had much time to watch. In fact, Britt had less than 24 hours to celebrate Missouri's win against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, before moving on to the next step in his career.
"The day after the Cotton Bowl, I signed with my agent and we flew down to Pensacola, Florida and started training, so I guess I haven't had an offseason because when my college career was done, I was getting ready for my NFL career the next day. So I watched football here and there, but I wouldn't say I studied any teams."
Norwood was too entrenched in preparing for Alabama's Sugar Bowl matchup against Oklahoma to enjoy watching any other games.
"I was mainly focused on what I was about to do," Norwood said. "What I had to do to prepare for the team I was about to face."
Once the game was over, Norwood had a chance to watch the Super Bowl, but the 12s will have to forgive his allegiance before becoming a Seahawk himself.
"To be honest, I watched the Super Bowl but I was kind of rooting for Peyton (Manning). I don't know, I'm a big Peyton fan," Norwood said. "I like the Manning's, but it was fun to watch [the Seahawks] beat him. They killed them 43-8 and I was like 'Wow, that team is great.'"
"About a year ago, I was in Montana getting ready to go down to Florida for pre-draft training," rookie linebacker Brock Coyle said. "And I remember watching the Super Bowl down there in Florida while I was training. It's cool that it's full circle now."
Coyle might have the best feel for the NFL playoffs of any of the Seahawks rookies. A University of Montana product, Coyle played in the Football Championship Series. FCS schools compete in a true playoff bracket format compared to schools in the Football Bowl Series, or FBS, that might only play a single bowl game. Montana advanced to the national semifinal game during Coyle's sophomore season, an experience that's helped him this year.
"I would say the playoff system in the FCS helped me for the long season of the NFL. Because if you go all the way to the national championship in the FCS, you're almost playing an NFL season, so that helped me in a way prepare for the NFL season."
It's not just the rookies thinking back to where they were a year ago. 12-year veteran Kevin Williams had finished his season with the Minnesota Vikings and was heading home to Arkansas for the offseason.
"You try to watch the games and see what your peers are doing who's having success and who's going to sustain momentum they had going into the playoffs and all those different things," Williams said. "You watch because you want to see who's going to win it all."
The defensive tackle paid close attention to the Seahawks throughout their playoff run and imagined what it would be like to be part of their dominating defense.
"I thought that when [the Minnesota Vikings] came out here Week 11. I was like, 'Man, they're having a lot of fun. I bet that'd be nice.' To actually get to do it? Obviously we're 12-4 and that's all you can ask for. First place in the NFC and the bye, so it lived up to what it could be and I'm really enjoying it."
Williams' last playoff appearance came after the 2011 season. He's waited a while to get back to the postseason and isn't taking it for granted.
Neither is second year cornerback Tharold Simon, who missed the entire 2013 season following foot surgery. Simon was in New Jersey for the Super Bowl win, but didn't feel like part of the team.
"You feel like you're a part of it now," Simon said. "You want to push even harder and do even more to get to that point where we were last year. We have a fantastic chance of getting there. We're going to do our best to keep motivating each other, keep challenging each other and at the end of the day, we'll see where we get."