In 2013, an upstart NFC contender headed into December with a 10-1 record, a second-year quarterback who was an emerging star, a ball-hawking defense and legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
Five years after being that up-and-coming team, the Seahawks are looking to stop a Philadelphia Eagles squad that, 11 games into the season, is following a similar script.
Five years ago, the Seahawks were the young NFC power that went on to win a championship, but now they're a veteran team that, with a 7-4 record, is looking to show that it is still a force to be reckoned with. The Eagles, meanwhile, arrive in Seattle with a 10-1 record hoping to validate their hot start with what would arguably be their most impressive victory of the season if they managed to knock off the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks know they haven't played their best football so far this season, and they're counting on being able to finish strong and show that they're still one of the NFL's top teams.
But even though they're not willing to concede NFC supremacy to anyone just yet, the Seahawks can look at the Eagles, who are led by second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, and appreciate the similarities between their championship team of five years ago and the team coming to Seattle this weekend. It's far from a perfect comparison—the Eagles defense is very good, but the 2013 Seahawks defense was historically great, while on the flip side of that, the Eagles are the league's No. 1 scoring offense, outpacing Seattle's 2013 production on that side of the ball—but there are plenty of similarities nonetheless. Like Wilson, Wentz has taken another step forward in his second season; the Eagles rely on a very productive running game; their defense is among the league leaders in takeaways; and both teams play with a swagger that walked the line between confidence and cockiness, likely depending on your rooting interests.
"When you start putting wins together, you start getting that confidence, and you can see that confidence," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "You can definitely see a swagger, you can see them playing hard on defense, there is a little bit of extra-curricular with their defense as well in the excitement and demonstrations and all those kind of things, but they are playing hard. They're backing it up, they're making plays, and I don't really spend much time looking at their offense obviously, but I would say that it's probably pretty similar as well."
And like any team on a hot streak, the Eagles have caught a few breaks along the way to add to their already strong play. That's not to say Philadelphia's fast start is lucky—they've been the best team in the league this season by just about any measure—but any team in a parity-driven league like the NFL that is so far out in front of the standings, the 2013 Seahawks included, likely caught a break or two along the way, be it good health or a lucky bounce of the ball.
"Yeah, I was actually watching a play vs. the Bears where a guy was running, he fumbled, and another recovered in the end zone," linebacker K.J. Wright said when asked if there were similarities between the 2013 Seahawks and these Eagles. "Just certain stuff, ball bouncing your way, getting those lucky plays, but at the same time playing really good. It looks like (Seattle looked in 2013). But that doesn't matter, we've got to make sure we come out here, play good football and get the win."
Another difference between this year's Eagles and the Super Bowl winning Seahawks? More people saw Seattle's success coming. In 2012, the Seahawks finished the season as one of the NFL's hottest teams, they won a playoff game and nearly upset Atlanta on the road to advance to the NFC championship game, and by the time the 2013 season began, Seattle was a popular Super Bowl pick. Philadelphia, meanwhile, showed some promise last season, but still went 7-9 and finished last in the NFC East, and heading into this season the Cowboys were the prohibitive favorite to repeat as division champs.
But instead, Wentz is playing like an MVP candidate, the Eagles added a lot of weapons around him at running back and receiver, and the defense has taken its play up a notch, and as a result, the Eagles have gone from losing record to Super Bowl contender. In particular, Wentz's second-year growth has allowed the Eagles to take such a big leap. Wentz showed promise as a rookie, but struggled at times. This year, however, he has thrown a league-leading 28 touchdown passes with just five interceptions, and has posted a 104.0 passer rating. Few can appreciate what Wentz is doing, as well as what he'll be trying to do in the postseason, better than Russell Wilson, who won a championship in his second season while posting a 101.2 passer rating.
"There's a real thing in the sophomore slump thing," Wilson said. "… There are a handful of guys that can handle it, and a handful of guys that can transition into it. I think Carson is one of those guys."
So yes, there are a lot of similarities between the Seahawks of 2013 and this year's Eagles, but on Sunday, the Seahawks hope to be the only one of those teams that managed to improve to 11-1. The Eagles have rightfully received a lot of praise for their play this season, but the Seahawks aren't ready to concede the conference to a young upstart just yet.
"Don't sleep on us, man," Wright said. "This team is really good. We're still talented. We can beat the best of the best. We are the best of the best. Just because we have injuries doesn't mean things will change."